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Ensuring Food Stamp Integrity

Cross posted from Politico:

As agriculture undersecretary and a former director of state Health and Human Services departments in Maine, Oregon and Iowa, I know the importance of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps. In today’s difficult economic times, this vital program helps families across the nation put food on the table.

Despite a rash of recent stories about food stamp fraud, the facts are that the Agriculture Department has a zero tolerance policy on this. We aggressively pursue those trying to take advantage of America’s compassion for people in need.

First-quarter results of our anti-fraud efforts demonstrate this commitment. From Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, 2011, we penalized — with fines or temporary disqualifications — more than 225 stores that violated program rules and permanently disqualified more than 350 stores caught trafficking food stamp benefits.

We’re now stepping up our efforts. I announced in December new anti-fraud initiatives. We awarded a 10-year contract to SRA International to develop the next generation of fraud-detection systems.

We plan even stronger penalties for retailers that misuse the program. We recently updated our policies to clarify that advertising the sale of benefits through social media is a violation and can result in disqualification from the food stamp program.

In addition, we’re finalizing rules to deter the practice of buying and discarding food to get money-back deposits; or reselling and exchanging products bought with food stamp benefits to obtain cash or other noneligible items.

The Agriculture Department’s efforts to combat SNAP trafficking have been particularly successful. Trafficking — the sale or purchase of benefits for cash — is an illegal activity punishable by criminal prosecution. Over the past 15 years, department and state agencies administering the program have sharply reduced such trafficking — from 4 percent to 1 percent.

But we cannot be content with that success — the people taking unfair advantage constantly change their tactics. We remain vigilant, working to stay ahead of these new forms of program abuse. We have stepped up documentation requirements and background checks on retailers who participate, or seek to participate, in food stamps. Stores that falsify information will be denied or disqualified and may face a $10,000 fine or imprisonment for as long as five years, or both.

The Agriculture Department recently launched a website (www.fns.usda.gov/fightingsnapfraud) to get the word out about our efforts to deter fraudulent food stamp activity and enlist the public’s help in fighting it. We will continue to use all tools available, including the latest technology, to combat fraud.

Some perspective on this is crucial. There are 46 million eligible Americans who depend on food stamps, largely because of income, age, disability or job circumstances. Nearly half are children, 8 percent are elderly and 20 percent of food stamp households include a person who is disabled. The great majority abide by program rules.

The fact is fraud is a limited problem in SNAP — though no amount is acceptable. Stores violating the program represent less than one-half of 1 percent of the more than 230,000 food stores authorized to redeem benefits. And the recent fraud stories indicate enforcement efforts are working — as those who would abuse the program are being caught and prosecuted.

This is good news for all U.S. taxpayers and good news for those who use the program — including millions of children and older Americans — who depend on food stamps. Which, in turn, is why the Agriculture Department is committed to assuring the integrity of this vital program.

9 Responses to “Ensuring Food Stamp Integrity”

  1. Susie says:

    Then the SNAP should not be administered through CHASE…but through a single point system that would give local access to information…not a huge bank vendor who feeds off this population, instead of fertilizes them with growth opportunities.

  2. Jeff says:

    What a joke. I see people everyday whomshouldmnot be getting foodstamps

  3. Dick says:

    My niece and her 2 young daughters rely on food stamps to help make ends meet. They could not survive without the SNAP program, since my niece works at a minimum wage job. Every time I hear one of these phantom stories of millionaires on SNAP, I think of them and the millions of others like them. Sure, fraud should be eliminated, but let’s stop creating myths about rich food stamp recipients. This is a much needed program–let’s be realistic about who actually receives this support and desperately needs it in a still very weak economy.

  4. Vicki says:

    I have no problem with people getting help, but when they get it and sell the use of their card for cash is sicking. There are so many selling the use of their card and the kids still go without food. A social worker can see and find out exactly when and how much an individual spends. They need to surprise people sometime just to make sure the kids are getting feed.

  5. Tamara Foster says:

    I heard on CNN the Republican representatives are trying to cut SNAP benefits. I am voicing my opinion. I am on disabilty, I need foodstamps to survive. The anchor on CNN was being snotty, saying that we don’t need foodstamps. We are not trying to be “dependant” on the government. I understand people “sell their link” people fall thru the cracks. Speaking of crack.. those are the people who are selling snap to buy crack. the offices should do drug tests like they do for snap-cash to rectify this problem. I will also let you know that a lot of people in this county are on SSI/disability and spend all their check on crack. Maybe we should vote for government benefits providers to mandate drug testing for SNAP and SSI/SSDI. Thank You, a concerned citizen.

  6. Thomas says:

    What a joke. I see people everyday whomshouldmnot be getting foodstamps.

  7. Sharon Kass says:

    Don’t help. Poverty prevention and relief is the business of the private sector. Government only interferes.

    The Welfare State has been a disaster. I know this personally. Don’t help!

  8. Paul says:

    Hmmm. 1% of 46 million people. 23 million of them are children. 20% are disabled. So, if the private sector is so much better, what pecentage of IPOs involve fraud? And is that more than 3/4 of a billion $? Now many food stamp receipients are in the top 1% of wage earners? And what percentage of taxpayers fudge their numbers every year.
    True, most of the fod allowable is packaged, processed and not as nutrious as it could be, but then that has been farm and food producer policy for decades. How about USDA working to minimize food deserts in under priveledge areas?

  9. maggie says:

    the problem lies with the illegals who cross and have child after child to receive benefits….my opinion is that the government makes it convenient for them to keep crossing so they can take advantage of the nearly free housing and snap benefits that is gonna have a very bad outcome for all the people who do not abuse the system

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