A New Step Forward in Fighting Food Stamp Fraud
May 24, 2012
01:07 PM EDT
At USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service we are committed to keeping our vital nutrition assistance programs available to those who need them most. One way to do that is to ensure access. Another is to ensure integrity—Americans expect us to serve those in need, and they expect us to do so with accountability for the benefits provided.
That why today, as part of the Obama administration's ongoing Campaign to Cut Waste, we’ve announced a proposed rule that will provide States with additional tools to maintain integrity in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps. The proposed rule will help States identify and prevent fraud by allowing them to request client contact when there are excessive Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card replacement requests by SNAP households. The rule also further clarifies the definition of what constitutes trafficking. These new tools are important because excessive card replacement requests by SNAP recipients may indicate that the client does not know how to use the card properly and needs additional help or training, or that fraudulent activity may be occurring that warrants further investigation by the State. To be clear, we expect most requests for replacement cards to be legitimate ones; however, it’s important that we take a closer look at those cases in which cards are replaced at an excessive rate.
Under our new policy, States can now hold off on replacing an EBT card until the household making the request makes contact with the State office and provides an explanation. The proposed rule provides States the option to require SNAP recipients to make contact with the state when there have been an excessive number of requests for card replacement in a year--a threshold defined by the State agency but no fewer than 4 requests, unless there is sufficient additional evidence of misuse. Previously, States did not have this authority.
Our new rule also makes it very clear that any offer to sell benefits—including via social media—is a form of trafficking and is against program rules. This provision clarifies that the intent to sell ones benefits is the equivalent of actual trafficking and is considered an intentional program violation that can result in disqualification from the program. To emphasize this point, we have written to major social media sites, including craigslist, eBay, Twitter, and Facebook regarding this policy and requested their assistance to prevent such solicitation on their websites.
We are excited to work with our State partners to ensure that they understand and use these new authorities to detect and prevent fraud. SNAP benefits are intended for the purchase of food only. Selling those food benefits for cash is an intentional program violation that can result in disqualification—and it won’t be tolerated. However, we have also made clear in the rule that States must protect vulnerable populations, and that the rule is meant to stop fraud, not negatively impact access to benefits for those who for legitimate reasons are requesting multiple replacements.
The vast majority of folks who participate in programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, do so honestly. They receive the benefits for which they are eligible and they use those benefits as they were intended—to meet the nutritional needs of their families. But, any level of abuse is unacceptable and we continually focus on rooting out any problems that occur. In the last few months we’ve taken a number of steps to prevent program abuse, such as enhancing our technological capabilities to discover fraud and implementing stronger sanctions against retailers who violate program rules.
Given how successful we have been over the years balancing the importance of access and integrity, I’m encouraged that this rule is one more tool for States that will give confidence to all Americans that we are ensuring people in need have access to the program and are using those benefits as intended—purchasing healthy food to put on their families’ tables.