USDA is not taking fraud lightly in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The agency has announced new measures to further reduce fraud in the program. The agency says its part of the Obama administration's ongoing "Campaign to Cut Waste." The aim of the moves is to root out waste, fraud and abuse so that federal dollars are "invested wisely," according to a press statement. The program will give staets new tools to examine excessive requests for replacement benefit cards - often a sign of SNAP fraud.
Kevin Concannon, Agriculture Under Secretaty, comments: "There are many legitimate reasons for replacing cards and the vast majority of recipients follow the ruls. But we are concerned that a few bad actors are using replacement cards to exchange SNAP benefits for cash, commonly referred to as trafficking." Concannon is Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services.
Trafficking is illegal and punishable by disqualification from the program, fines, and even criminal prosecution. Over the last 15 years, FNS has aggressively implemented a number of measures to reduce the prevalence of trafficking in the SNAP from 4% down to 1%, according to USDA.
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 replacements in a year. The proposal lets States set the threshold for contact but stipulates that it be no fewer than four requests in the 12 month period prior to the requests. This will provide States the opportunity to determine whether the request is legitimate, or requires further investigation, Concannon said. States using the option must also ensure that they protect vulnerable people who lose their cards but are not committing fraud. The proposed rule is available on the Food and Nutrition Service website and will be published in the Federal Register for public comment in the near future.
USDA continues to work with local, state and federal partners to root out fraud, waste and abuse in SNAP, also known as food stamps. Most recently, USDA sent letters to the CEOs of Craigslist, EBay, Facebook and Twitter to reiterate the need to help prevent the illegal sale or purchase of SNAP benefits on their websites. The proposed rule also codifies current policy that such attempted sales are trafficking violations.
Concannon also today released second quarter, fiscal year 2012 results of USDA work in fighting fraudulent activity in SNAP retail stores, tallying final actions to sanction or disqualify retailers violating program rules. In that quarter, USDA staff took final actions to:
- Impose sanctions, through fines or temporary disqualifications, on more than 198 stores found violating program rules; and
- Permanently disqualify over 366 stores for trafficking in SNAP benefits (i.e. exchanging SNAP benefits for cash).
USDA's Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services is currently developing tougher sanctions and penalties for fraudulent retailers and next quarter will announce additional steps to ensure permanently disqualified individuals are not participating in SNAP in other states.
SNAP is the largest of USDA's 15 nutrition assistance programs with more than 46 million recipients.