No one wants to be on welfare, no one wants to collect food stamps. People do it out of desperation; they do it because all other options have been exhausted. If you are like most of the individuals on government assistance programs, then your only desire is to keep your family alive.
The food stamp program was meant to help people like you; it was meant to act as a buffer against malnutrition and starvation. The general idea behind it is that unemployed, underemployed, and other down-on-their-luck people would use food stamps to buy groceries until able to turn things around in their lives.
But life rarely works out in such an ideal way. You may have found it difficult to land the steady, high-wage job that would allow you to take your family off welfare. A personal illness or a sick child, a cutback in the number of hours you’re now able to work, random reductions in your other sources of revenue—any one of these events or all of them put together may have prevented you from making ends meet.
When such things happen, it can cause a great deal of confusion and uncertainty. You look for ways to increase or make last the assistance you receive, which can lead to actions that are not in accordance with the letter of the law.
There are various kinds of food stamp fraud.
In many jobs nowadays the hours you work change significantly from week to week. You may underreport the number of hours actually worked in a given month because it will lead to a reduction in what you receive. You may have received money from family or friends, or cash from doing odd jobs from which there is no paper trail. Indeed, many people get part-time jobs to show that they are trying to work while maintaining side jobs that are unsteady but pay a great deal more. Failing to report any of this income is a violation of the law.
Another way of committing food stamp fraud is to misreport the number of people in your household. The higher the number of individuals the more benefits you will receive. You should report only the number of people actually living with you-that is sleeping, eating, and in constant residence in your place. If someone has moved out of your home, you must report it. Failure to do so may lead to a suspension of your food stamp benefit for a certain period of time. A further possible consequence is that you will be forced to pay back the money you received.
One of the most common types of food stamp fraud is trafficking. This involves the selling of food stamps for hard cash or other items. Many people resort to this kind of activity when a utility bill is due or the rent and they do not have the money to pay for it. You may think that the transaction is being done to keep you and your family alive, and thus it may seem perfectly fine to you. It is not. Food stamp trafficking is illegal, and if you are caught you will be arrested and prosecuted.
Retail stores have also been known to participate in food stamp fraud. A small neighborhood grocer whose owner you may know may allow you to buy with food stamps items that are not allowable. Alcohol and cigarettes are the most commonly purchased illegal items. If the authorities find out, and there is no end of persons willing to inform on you and the store, then you both are subject to prosecution.
If you have been charged with food stamp fraud, your first action should be to seek legal counsel. The first thing that must be determined is whether you have actually broken the law. Being charged with a crime is not the same as actually committing a crime. The authorities may have evidence that points to illegal or suspicious activity on your part. It is nevertheless your right to defend yourself against such charges.
When you work hard and are still unable to get anywhere, when are still unable to feed your family and make ends meet, it may tempt you into some desperate actions. However, your rights as an American citizen remain perfectly valid; and it is up to the authorities to prove their case against you. Enormous pressure will be brought upon you immediately to confess to a crime. They know that you are in a vulnerable position and that you may be without the resources and confidence to go against the state. You should not allow yourself to be cowed and intimidated. Working with a lawyer who specializes in food stamp fraud cases will give you a fighting chance to clear your name.
If in fact you have broken the law and the authorities have more than enough evidence to prove it, you should still retain the services of a lawyer. At that point, the main aim would be to get you the best deal possible. Your life circumstances and other mitigating factors may be brought to bear to get you a favorable outcome.
Lawyers with extensive training and experience in working such cases are your best hope for mounting a solid and credible defense. Such lawyers will have deep insight into the laws regulating welfare benefits; they will also have knowledge of cases similar to yours and will thus be able to apply lessons learned from those.
Most lawyers who work food stamp fraud cases have deep insight into the lives and conditions of working people. They will be able to grasp immediately the hardships and setbacks that led you to seek government assistance in the first place. You will be treated with the humanity and dignity you deserve. You will not be dismissed or looked upon as another nameless welfare case. The particulars of your life will be understood and everything possible will be done to ensure that you and your family do not suffer unduly.
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