US Agriculture Department rolls out plan to battle food stamp fraud
The Agriculture Department says it is going to impose tougher penalties on stores that violate food stamp rules and give states new tools to root out applicants who are ineligible for the benefit program that now covers about 1 out of every 7 Americans.
Congress struggles to pass a $100 billion-a-year bill that will fund food stamps and determine farm policy for the next five years. Some 80 percent of the money in the farm and nutrition bill goes to the food stamp program.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) has seen participation climb from 28 million at the start of the recession in 2008 to 46 million today. The department says food stamp fraud already is at record lows due to increased oversight, but is sensitive to any reports of abuse.
Department Undersecretary Kevin Concannon stressed that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program already has one of the best track records among federal programs in fighting violations, with a trafficking or abuse rate of only about 1 percent of total transactions.
But in a program where even a small amount of abuse can amount to millions of dollars, “we are very mindful of public confidence” that only those who qualify for benefits will receive them, he said.
The new sanctions would allow the department to both disqualify a retailer who traffics and assess a fine proportionate to the amount of food stamp business the store does. Currently the department cannot do both, and too often the penalties “may have been viewed as a slap on the wrist,” Concannon said.
States also would be required to check a national database to verify that applicants haven’t been disqualified in other states and confirm from Social Security Administration records that the applicant is not in jail or deceased.
More from the Ag Dept – here