SNAP is America’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It is commonly referred to as “food stamps”. SNAP is a $70 billion government program that insures hungry low-income Americans can eat. Approximately, 44 million Americans collect food stamps. Most food stamp recipients are women, children, elderly, disabled and unemployed. SNAP awards eligible low-income households by placing funds onto the recipient’s SNAP card.
About 4 percent of SNAP recipients receive $16 a month. An average household receives approximately $281 monthly while an individual receives $133 a month. The $16 should be spent on groceries. Investigations have discovered that the $16 is being swapped for money.
The USDA’s rules may encourage SNAP fraud. Recipients cannot buy products that are popular among lower income people such as liquor, tobacco products, toiletries, prepared hot foods, medications and household items with the food stamps. They must buy groceries which consist of fruits, vegetables, meat, seafood, poultry, cereal and bread.
What is SNAP fraud?
Swapping the value of the food stamp’s card for cash, drugs or anything other than groceries is SNAP fraud.
Fraud is suspected by individuals, SNAP program workers, and retail store owners who exhibit the following characteristics:
Fraud by individuals:
• Benefits awarded to people who are deceased
• Excessive balances
• High requests for a new debit SNAP card
Fraud by program workers:
• High number of new accounts created
• High number of fraudulent accounts
Fraud by retail store owners:
• Large purchases
• Even-dollar purchases for the same retailer
• Number of Out-=of-state purchases are high
• Multiple transactions conducted in an hour
SNAP’s fraud rate, however, has been declining for the last thirty four years. It has decreased to 1 cent in 2006 from 4 cents in 1993 and has decreased from a 3.5% fraud rate in 2012 to less than 1.5% today.
Fraud was greatly reduced because SNAP recipients receive an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card containing the funds awarded instead of the original paper stamps. The paper stamps encouraged fraud because the stamps were easy to counterfeit and even harder to track. The EBT card today is more secure because it requires a PIN to use and eliminates the exchange of cash during purchases.
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is continuously upgrading their policies, procedures and technology to implement new tools that can identify, track and convict those suspected of fraud.
Penalties for SNAP fraud
The severity of the penalty depends on the severity and dollar value of the fraud.
Store owners convicted of defrauding SNAP swapped food stamps for 60 cents per dollar. Penalties included restitution between $95,000 and $1.4 million. and up to 38 months in jail.
After a major investigation of thousands of stores, 1,400 were permanently banned from the program. The investigation was responsible for 342 convictions and prison sentences.
One program worker embezzled $150,000 from the Wisconsin Food Share program in 2015.
She is now serving a 10 year sentence in jail.
Swapping and using food stamps in exchange for drugs or cash is individual fraud. The person who buys the food stamps will be convicted of a felony if he buys them for $100 or more. He will be convicted of a misdemeanor if the amount is less than $100.
The culprit(s) may also be prohibited from receiving benefits for one year. They may serve incurred prison sentences and pay high restitution and fees.
You must fully disclose all of your income. Reporting inaccurate income in order to qualify for SNAP is fraud. The culprit will be banned from receiving benefits for one year for first offense, and two years for the second offence and permanently for any additional offenses.
What happens I am charged with food stamp fraud?
If you are suspected or charged with SNAP fraud, you should seek an attorney experienced in food stamp fraud to help you fight the charges. Conviction of this charge will result in up to 25 years in prison and restitution of as much as $100,000 are imposed and the charge will appear on your criminal record. A criminal record makes it hard to obtain credit, find employment and even obtain housing. If you have to pay restitution or fines, you may arrange a repayment schedule. DTA will compromise allowing you to pay what you can in 3 years without causing financial hardship to your budget. You may ask the court to allow you to perform community service in lieu of paying money.
If criminal charges are not filed, you still maybe incur an Intentional Program Violation (IPV). An IPV occurs when the court finds that you falsified information, hid information or refrained for providing essential information concerning changes to your status that will make you ineligible to obtain benefits. If you are overpaid due to a mistake or misunderstanding, you will not be charged an IPV. An IPV occurs when you are found to have intentionally deceived the system. If you are found guilty of an IPV, your benefits will stop for a determined period of time and you may also have to pay restitution.