FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It's your tax money and a WINK News Investigation shows you're still paying for drinking, gambling and smoking.
Three years after we first exposed welfare money being spent on booze and bingo, our undercover investigation shows a new law doesn't appear to be helping.
The law centers around the Temporary Cash Assistance Program. Around 50,000 Florida families receive an average of $235 a month on a debit card called an Electronic Benefit Transfer, or EBT card.
The new law, signed by Governor Scott in May of last year, is supposed to prevent welfare dollars from being used on alcohol or adult entertainment. So you might think that a store that advertises beer and wine for sale might be blocked. But when WINK News Call For Action took our undercover cameras into a store on Fowler Street in Fort Myers, were $290 was pulled out from the ATM in January and February, we found those transactions were perfectly legal. Because the store also sells food, it's considered a convenience store.
"We try to enforce (the state statute) within the limitations of the law," said Natalie Harrell, a spokeswoman with the Department of Children and Families, which administers the program.
We found there are several limitations. First, the credit card companies classify the type of business where the ATM is located. So while the new law prohibits them at "adult entertainment" facilities like strip clubs and casinos, an internet café where the slot machines are only for entertainment purposes is allowed to have an ATM that accepts EBT cards.
"There are some establishments which are basically in a gray area, that are not directly outlined in the state statute," said Harrell, "as a result they can't be included in our enforcement."
Three years ago WINK News Call For Action dug through the numbers and found questionable ATM transactions at bingo halls and liquor stores. After our investigation, lawmakers in Tallahassee got to work and passed House Bill 701, banning the use of EBT cards for alcohol and adult entertainment.
Even the businesses that are cut and dry, like strip clubs, have to self-report their ATM to have EBT cards blocked. If they don't?
"There is no penalty if a business is aware that they have an ATM in a restricted facility," said Harrell.
So far, less than 80 ATMs have been blocked in the entire state, according to DCF.
Because of the privacy that we all expect from ATMs, no one can say for sure what EBT withdrawals are used to buy. But we can tell you on Superbowl Sunday, $540 was pulled from an ATM at a convenience store in Pensacola called "Beer City."
"We are working with upholding the state statute within the barriers that we are facing," Harrell said.
WINK News reached out to the Governor's office for comment, but they never responded to our requests.
Unfortunately, a lot of the work to protect your money has to be done by you. If you see a suspicious ATM, you're urged to contact DCF, at 1-850-717-4131 or by clicking here, so they can begin an investigation.