Photo: Flickr/Bread for the world
A Pittsburgh, Pa. woman’s fight against claims she illegally pocketed more than $21,000 worth of food stamps is one of the latest reminders of the challenges facing the nation’s food assistance program.Prosecutors claim Candice Lynn Heath, 30, failed to report her husband’s income when she applied for benefits, which would have nudged her out of the food stamp bracket, according to the McAlester News-Capital.
But even as regulators battled Heath in court, the newspaper reports she still received more than $1,000 in assistance from the government.
Despite the government’s best intentions, this kind of food stamp fraud still runs rampant in the U.S., costing the country more than $750 million each year, Reuters’ Lisa Baertlein reports.
And much like the new whistleblower protection laws put in place to encourage employees to call out illegal company activity, the USDA has launched a site for consumers to report fraud.
Some fraudsters turn a profit on food stamps by selling them online to consumers or retailers, but the practice was made more difficult when the government started issuing assistance via PIN-protected debit cards.
The agency says it deployed 100 workers last year to investigate more than 15,000 stores for fraud. In total, they disqualified 1,200 from from the program for alleged food stamp trafficking and sanctioned hundreds more for other violations.
Record numbers of Americans have applied for food assistance since Obama took office, with 21 million households joining the so-called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in 2011–an increase of nearly 10 million from 2007.
Food assistance is funded at the federal level and individual states are in charge of how they’re administered. In some cases, state law leaves loopholes open to consumers who wouldn’t otherwise qualify for benefits.
And the food stamp fraud rate has more than doubled since the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s 2006-2008 report, when it was estimated to suck $330 million from the country annually.