The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, exists to help people who need financial assistance to buy food. Unfortunately, there is a portion of the population who takes advantage of the aid – trading food stamps for cash. According to an article in the Richmond Times Dispatch, two states have teamed up with the federal government to combine their efforts and prevent food stamp fraud.
Virginia and Maryland are home to over one million recipients of food stamps, making them prime targets for food stamp fraud. Both state governments, fed up with the current challenges of detecting fraud, teamed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to create a system capable of catching unusual patterns in the use of Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards. (What a great way to put resources and technology to use!) The USDA commented that it intends to use data collected under the teaming agreements with the states to develop an enhanced monitoring tool for other states. (This is an example of stepping in the right direction.)
While food trafficking and fraud accounts for only a fraction of the large SNAP program, it is necessary to stop fraud before it grows. Nationwide, SNAP program recipients have access to about 250,000 outlets that have the legal ability to redeem benefits. With nearly 47 million recipients of food stamp aid nationwide, a percentage of those individuals misuse EBT cards to obtain cash for their personal use. The new technology will not only give officials the ability to detect unusual patterns in EBT cards, but also will be able to pick offenses such as “water dumping,” or the purchasing of bottles only to dump the product inside and return the bottle for cash. (With all the effort that is put into defrauding the government, these fraudsters could just get a job.)Current efforts have dropped the trafficking rate from four cents on the dollar in 1993 to one cent on the dollar from 2006-2008. The hope is to continue the reduction of SNAP fraud, not only in Virginia and Maryland, but also nationwide.
We read so many stories on the bad guys who are committing the fraud. It’s rare that we see a story that shows states and the federal government working together to leverage technology capable of reducing fraud nationwide. I’d like to see a few more of those.