Food stamps are a benefit based on the income and number of people in a household. It’s not a guarantee that someone will receive food stamps if certain thresholds are not met. If there are no children in the home, then the amount of the benefits would be extremely low if any amount is given at all. In most states, money used for food stamp allotments is taken from taxes that are paid in by other people who are working. This is why it’s considered a benefit. Unfortunately, there are some people who don’t see it as that and commit food stamp fraud.
What Is Food Stamp Fraud?
There are a few different ways that people can commit food stamp fraud. One of the common ways is when the recipient exchanges the food stamps received for cash. It’s considered trafficking, and it’s against the law in most states, if not all of them. Another way that people commit fraud is by lying on an application in order to receive more benefits than they are supposed to get or to get benefits when they aren’t eligible. The applicant will lie about the number of people who live in the home or the amount of money that people in the home make. Proof of income is required when completing an application, but if someone is paid in cash, then it’s easier to lie about the money that is made. As the income decreases, the amount of the benefit that is received will increase, so people tend to claim that they don’t make as much money. One of the other issues seen is when a business has been convicted of fraud in the past and lies on an application in order to be able to accept food stamps once again.
Because of stricter insights and penalties, the number of cases involving trafficking has decreased in recent years. According to the USDA, there have also been improvements to the agency overseeing businesses in order to catch more people who try to exchange food stamps or accept food stamps when they aren’t eligible to accept them. When someone completes an application to receive benefits, there is clearly a paragraph that alerts the applicant that any kind of fraud can result in no longer receiving benefits or criminal charges being filed. Even with this warning, there are still people who commit fraud, but those numbers look to be decreasing on a regular basis because of the significant efforts from those who make reports and those who are involved in government agencies who are monitoring what takes place with people who receive food stamps.
A common occurrence with people who receive food stamps is that they will exchange what they have on the card for money to buy alcohol, cigarettes, clothing, and items that are needed for the home. The only person who is supposed to use the benefits is the cardholder as it benefits the needs of the family. Someone might tell another person that he can use the benefits to get a certain amount of food at the store if that person will get something that the benefits won’t purchase. When someone applies for food stamps, that person might declare that there are more people in the home or that there isn’t anyone working. Bank statements or tax statements are often required at some point, and if the agency discovers that there is more income than has been reported, then it can lead to a disqualification from the program or charges filed.
There are a few different penalties possible for those who commit food stamp fraud. It could be considered a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the amount that was received and how long the fraud took place. Most states will look at $2,500 as the cutoff from a misdemeanor to a felony. Those who are convicted of a felony for food stamp fraud are often sentenced to at least a year in jail along with fines and restitution, paying back the amount that was received. A conviction usually prevents that person from getting food stamp benefits in the future. If the person is charged with a misdemeanor, then probation might be an option along with fines and restitution. The defendant would still be ineligible for receiving benefits in the future in most states. Even with a misdemeanor, there is still the possibility of being sentenced to jail.
Spodek Law Group and other law offices can examine the evidence presented to determine if the fraud was intentional or accidental. A defense that could be used is that the defendant forgot to include someone’s income because that person just started a job. Another defense could be that the person was forced to traffic benefits or forced to lie on the application by someone else who lives in the home.
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