On Sunday The Washington Free Beacon posted an article about fraud in the government’s food stamp program.
The article reports:
According to a new report produced by the Government and Accountability Office (GAO), at least $1 billion in food stamp benefits are “trafficked annually,” meaning they are fraudulently used. The extent of the fraud is uncertain, the GAO warns, estimating the abuse of the program could be as high as $4.7 billion.
About 20 million lower-income households receive benefits from the $64 billion Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, to buy food. But GAO found that instead of being used for food, many stores are defrauding the program by “selling” cash instead of food.
“For example, a store might give a person $50 in exchange for $100 in benefits – then pocket the difference,” GAO explains.
The article explains one possible remedy:
The fraud, known as “retailer trafficking,” costs taxpayers at least $1 billion. However, the real cost could be “anywhere from $960 million to $4.7 billion,” the GAO adds.
The Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA), a Washington, D.C.-based think tank advocating reform, launched a “Stop the Scam initiative” to raise awareness of the widespread problem.
“Welfare fraud is one of the biggest untold stories of the last decade, robbing resources from the truly needy and eroding public trust in the integrity of our welfare programs,” Sam Adolphsen, vice president of executive affairs at FGA, said in a statement. “While the bad-actor food stamp retailers exposed in this GAO report are in part to blame, we must not lose sight of the accountability that falls upon the food stamp recipient willing to commit fraud and abuse the system.”
The FGA hopes to reduce fraud and abuse at the state level by uncovering discrepancies in each state’s eligibility systems by regularly reviewing their processes.
Public assistance works best when it is closest to the recipient. That way the people providing the assistance know who is in need and who is taking advantage of the program. It also allows those administering the program to spot fraud more easily. Every program in Washington needs to audited for fraud and cleaned up. That alone might make it unnecessary for Congress to raise the debt ceiling every few months.
The article concludes:
Finally, GAO recommended that FNS should “determine the appropriate scope and time frames for reauthorizing high-risk stores,” increase penalties for retail traffickers, and establish performance measures for its trafficking prevention activities.
The Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 gave the USDA the authority to strengthen penalties for retailers that commit fraud, but as of November 2018, FNS had not done so.
“By failing to take timely action to strengthen penalties, FNS has not taken full advantage of an important tool for deterring trafficking,” GAO states.
When the GAO confirms what actions FNS has taken in response to its recommendations, it plans to provide updated information to the public, the agency states. It states that the FNS generally agreed with its findings.
The USDA/FNS did not respond to requests to comment for this story.