WIUM Tristates Public Radio

USDA Cracks Down on Food Stamp Fraud

Feb 26, 2013

The USDA says it’s changing  the rules of its aid program commonly known as “food stamps” to help crack down on fraud.

The agency is expanding its legal definition of “trafficking” to crack down on people exchanging food stamp benefits for cash.

Credit http://www.fns.usda.gov (via wikipedia)

Illinois Hunger Coalition Director Diane Doherty says efforts like this are implemented largely to fight a perception of widespread waste and fraud.

A perception, that she says, is overblown.

"I've had people say to me well I was in the grocery store the other day and I saw this person pull out coupons and they bought a steak and they had a fur coat and they were driving a Mercedes," Doherty says.

These stories continue to grow, and they're shared, this misinformation is shared

She added that the program, known now at the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, hasn't used paper coupons in years and nows uses an electronic card.

"These stories continue to grow, and they're shared, this misinformation is shared," Doherty says.

Doherty says 84 percent of the benefits are redeemed through major chain grocery stores, places where fraud is very unlikely.  She says when trafficking does happen it’s the stores that benefit, not the people enrolled in the program.

The USDA says that these new changes will give it the authority to stop the most serious “trafficking” cases.  It also says that last year it closed 1,400 stores that engaged in trafficking.

There is also a perception that food stamps mostly benefit those living in big cities. But the truth is they’re used by many people in rural areas too.

For example, 3,700 people received SNAP benefits in McDonough County last month.  Those benefits were worth 470,000 dollars. In Fulton County, 5,700 people received benefits worth of total of 720,000 thousand dollars.