Picture all of the people in the state capitals of Michigan, Illinois, Connecticut, and Kansas – can you do that? That’s Lansing, Springfield, Hartford, and Topeka. Okay, do you have them all in your head? (1,2,3….) Now, picture them hungry. New statistics out of the White House late last year estimated that the amount of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) aka “food stamps” fraud this year equals $753 million – enough to feed 460,000 beneficiaries…or roughly the populations of those four state capitals. It’s important to think of those state capitals, because it puts the program in perspective – and its potential for improvement.

Those aren’t the only numbers in today’s Fraud of the Day, courtesy of a report in The Washington Post. No, we also learn that the reason those fraud numbers are so high is that the program itself has reached record proportions, serving 46.2 million people in the last year. How many state capitals would that fill? All of them. And then some. But at least fraud is beginning to catch the attention of the White House, where officials announced new steps to crack down on fraud within SNAP. Severe penalties will soon be deployed against those who illegally traffic in these benefits.

The fraud cuts both ways, from beneficiaries who sell their SNAP benefits for cash online to retailers who receive fraudulent PIN numbers and collect funds. In the last 10 years, more than 8,000 retailers have been disqualified for participating in fraud, but in the last year alone, more than 44,000 individuals have been disqualified thanks to state government investigations. While that number may seem impressive, only about one out of every nineteen investigations led to a disqualification. Adding new penalties likely will help crack down on fraud, but agencies also must continue to look for new methods to more effectively identify potential fraudsters. And they’re doing that. In fact, one plan out of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agency that oversees SNAP, calls for providing state officials with greater authority to investigate replacement card applications. Now that’s what I call a capital idea!

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