Thursday, May 24, 2012
USDA Proposes Additional Steps to Fight Fraud and Enhance SNAP Integrity
Announcements Highlight Ongoing Efforts to Fight Fraud in Nation's Most Critical Nutrition Assistance Program WASHINGTON, May 24, 2012 - Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon today announced new measures to further reduce fraud in USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as part of the Obama administration's ongoing Campaign to Cut Waste. The new measures will help root out waste, fraud and abuse so that federal dollars are invested wisely by giving states new tools to examine excessive requests for replacement benefit cards. Current law lacks needed flexibility for States to contact households for information about requests for multiple replacements, which in some cases may indicate fraudulent activity. "There are many legitimate reasons for replacing cards and the vast majority of recipients follow the rules," said Concannon, Agriculture Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services. "But we are concerned that a few bad actors are using replacement cards to exchange SNAP benefits for cash, commonly referred to as trafficking." Trafficking is an illegal activity punishable by disqualification from the program, fines, and even criminal prosecution. Over the last 15 years, FNS has aggressively implemented a number of measures to reduce the prevalence of trafficking in SNAP from 4 percent down to 1 percent. The proposed rule provides States the option to require SNAP recipients to make contact with the state when there have been an excessive number of requests for replacements in a year. The proposal lets States set the threshold for contact but stipulates that it be no fewer than four requests in the 12 month period prior to the requests. This will provide States the opportunity to determine whether the request is legitimate, or requires further investigation, Concannon said. States using the option must also ensure that they protect vulnerable people who lose their cards but are not committing fraud. The proposed rule is available on the Food and Nutrition Service website and will be published in the Federal Register for public comment in the near future. USDA continues to work with local, state and federal partners to root out fraud, waste and abuse in SNAP, also known as food stamps. Most recently, USDA sent letters to the CEOs of Craigslist, EBay, Facebook and Twitter to reiterate the need to help prevent the illegal sale or purchase of SNAP benefits on their websites. The proposed rule also codifies current policy that such attempted sales are trafficking violations. "We are committed to meeting the highest standards of accountability when it comes to protecting taxpayer dollars and enhancing the integrity of SNAP," Concannon said. "Americans continue to support helping struggling families put food on the table but they want to know that taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely." Concannon also today released second quarter, fiscal year 2012 results of USDA work in fighting fraudulent activity in SNAP retail stores, tallying final actions to sanction or disqualify retailers violating program rules. In that quarter, USDA staff took final actions to: * Impose sanctions, through fines or temporary disqualifications, on more than 198 stores found violating program rules; and * Permanently disqualify over 366 stores for trafficking in SNAP benefits (i.e. exchanging SNAP benefits for cash). USDA's Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services is currently developing tougher sanctions and penalties for fraudulent retailers and next quarter will announce additional steps to ensure permanently disqualified individuals are not participating in SNAP in other states. SNAP – the nation's first line of defense against hunger – helps put food on the table for millions of low income families and individuals every month. The largest of USDA's 15 nutrition assistance programs, it has never been more critical to the fight against hunger. SNAP is a vital supplement to the monthly food budget more than 46 million low-income individuals. Nearly half of SNAP participants are children and more than 40 percent of recipients live in households with earnings. For more information about USDA efforts to combat fraud visit the Stop SNAP fraud website at http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/fraud.htm. For more information about USDA's nutrition assistance programs visit USDA's Food and Nutrition Service website at www.fns.usda.gov.