The Food Stamp program was created to help those Americans who couldn’t put food on the table. Recently there has been a rise in food stamp fraud and this fraud is a financial drain on our government, which means that it is a financial strain on the American taxpayers.
The government is being ripped off for millions of dollars by food stamp recipients illegally selling their benefit cards for cash. These recipients sometimes sell their cards in the open, on eBay or Craigslist, and then ask the government for replacement cards.
The Agriculture Department is wanting to give states more power so the states can investigate those people who repeatedly claim to lose their benefit cards. The department is proposing new rules that would give states the right to demand formal explanations from those recipients who seek replacement cards more than three times a year. Those who refuse to comply, would be denied further cards.
Kevin Concannon, the undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services, has said that up to this point, the state’s hands have been tied unless they absolutely suspected fraudulent activity.
Food stamp fraud costs taxpayers approximately $750 million a year, which is 1 percent of the $75 billion program that makes up the bulk of the department’s total budget for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The greater amount of fraud occurs when unscrupulous retailers allow customers to turn in their benefit cards for lesser amounts of cash. But now people are selling and trading cards in the open market, including through websites.
The USDA sent letters last year urging eBay and Craigslist to notify customers that it is illegal to buy and sell food stamps. According to USDA officials, they are still receiving complaints that card holders are using the websites to illegally market food stamps.
The states with the highest percentage of recipients seeking four or more replacement cards a year are South Dakota, Oklahoma, Washington D.C., Minnesota and Washington state.
Alabama is included in the states that have the lowest percentage of households requesting four or more cards in a 12-month period.
Some states are issuing warning letters to people who request four replacement cards in a year. These letters let the recipients know that officials are monitoring them closely.
More than 46 million people receive food stamps, with nearly have of them being children. The average monthly benefit is $132.00 per person.
Last year, about 850,000 people were investigated for possible food stamp fraud. There were around 2,000 stores that were sanctioned for illegal conduct, and 1,200 stores permanently removed from the food stamp program.
According to Concannon, large supermarkets are rarely involved in illegal activity. Usually the fraud is found in smaller shops and convenience stores.
The USDA is developing tougher sanctions and penalties for retailers engaging in food stamp fraud. It is also taking steps to make sure that those individuals disqualified from the program for illegal activity in one state are not able to use it again in other states.