Government Aid Loophole Raises Questions About Efficiency

By on April 21st, 2014

A loophole in the Florida Department of Children and Families government-assistance program is raising concerns among taxpayers.

The Automated Community Connection to Economic Self Sufficiency (ACCESS) program provides qualified low-income families with monthly aid in the form of medical assistance, food stamps and cash to keep them financially afloat.

While the program regulates what individuals can spend in grocery stores, one feature remains in question: cash back.

People who apply for assistance through the program can access both food stamps and monthly cash assistance through an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card.

Once activated, the card works like a debit card.

John Harrell, the communications manager for the Florida Department of Children and Families Northeast Region, said in order for the money to be used responsibly, the cards are programmed to block specific items from being purchased.

Alcohol, tobacco products, medicines and household supplies are among the list of items banned from being purchased with EBT cards, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Harrell said they function as smart cards and prevent the register from accepting the card as payment for these items.

There were a total of 167 attempted restricted card uses made between January and March, keeping nearly $2,000 from being spent on undesignated items, according to Harrell. However, EBT cardholders can use their cards at ATMs and stores to withdraw cash from food stamp or Temporary Cash Assistance balances.

Food stamps are meant to only provide money for purchasing “healthy foods,” like breads, meats, fruits, vegetables and plant seeds, according to the website. The Temporary Cash Assistance program also provides cash for eligible families with children still in school for other basic necessities.

Other measures to regulate EBT spending are in place at some Alachua County grocery stores.

Kevin Rauton, the processing director at Hitchcock’s Markets in the city of Alachua, said the store has implemented an additional safeguard to prevent restricted purchases from being made.

“Every item in our system is flagged either ‘food stamp’ or ‘non-food stamp,'” Rauton said.  “If it’s flagged ‘food stamp,’ it is allowed to be purchased [with the card].”

Everything can be scanned together because the monitor keeps track of what amount is covered by the food stamps and the ineligible items that need to be paid for separately.

Harrell said people are also trying to use these benefits to pay for other services outside of grocery stores.

A 2013 Florida law banned the use of state-issued EBT cards at strip clubs, liquor stores and casinos.

The most recent data from the United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service states nearly 3.5 million people receive food stamps in Florida.

Without any way of tracking this cash, some recipients could be using state tax dollars illegally. Harrell said they are working closely with the federal government to develop secure technology to stop the illegal spending of government aid money.

“We’d [DCF] have to consult with the federal government,” Harrell said. “This is a federal program, so we’ve got to follow federal guidelines.”

This entry was posted in Florida and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

More Stories in Florida

Open-Carry Gun Bill Bangs Into Business Concerns

Several lawmakers in both parties and an influential business group expressed concerns about the potential impact of the proposal on private property rights.

Sofia DeCerce, 21, a senior studying health education and behavior, and Lindsay Pearl, 19, a sophomore studying health science discuss programs GatorWell offers with Ronit Dastidar, 19, a microbiology sophomore. "People are going to keep doing what they're doing, but it's important to make sure that they're informed to the correct way to do those activities," Dastidar said.

Florida Ranked 47th In Sexual Health, Could Be Due To Educational Lack

Florida ranked 47th in the United States for sexual health by the State by State Safer Sex Index. Melissa St. Onge, communications manager for Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida, said she was not surprised to hear Florida ranked so low on the survey, and that sexual health conversations should start at home and continue with education in class.

Survey: Floridians Oppose Guns On Campus

Almost three-quarters of Floridians — 73 percent — oppose allowing students with concealed-weapons permits to carry guns on campus.


Judge Refuses to Stop Florida Black Bear Hunt

A Leon County judged ruled that Florida’s first black bear hunt in 21 years will indeed happen. The ruling says that a state wildlife agency was within its right to schedule the hunt.

The existing seal of the  Florida state senate. A committee is reviewing whether the Confederate flag should be removed.

Florida’s Senators Consider Removing Confederate Flag From State Senate Seal

The Senate Rules Committee will meet Oct. 8 to begin re-examining the current emblem of the chamber. Under Senate rules, the seal includes “a fan of the five flags which have flown over Florida” — those of the United States, Confederate States of America, France, Great Britain and Spain.

Thank you for your support

WUFT depends on the support of our community — people like you — to help us continue to provide quality programming to North Central Florida.
Become a Sustainer
I want to support FM 89.1/NPR
I want to support Florida's 5/PBS
Donate a Vehicle
Underwriting Payments