USDA announces plans to cut down on food stamp fraud

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Amid mounting pressure to pass a House farm bill, the United States Department of Agriculture announced new plans Thursday to crack down on food stamps fraud.

Nutrition assistance accounts for about 80 percent of spending in the nearly trillion dollar farm bill recently passed in the Senate and pending in the House.

With one in seven people currently receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, or food stamps, program spending has doubled since 2008 and quadrupled since 2001.

While the spending increase has less to do with fraud and more to do with issues such as stimulus spending, eligibility policies, and the recession, USDA unveiled plans Thursday to ensure that only those truly eligible are the ones receiving benefits.

“USDA has a zero tolerance policy for SNAP fraud,” said Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon in a statement. “These additional measures reaffirm our ongoing commitment to ensuring these dollars are spent as intended–helping millions of people in need get back on solid economic footing.”

The measures include more stringent regulations on retailers — including disqualification from the program or financial penalties for stores engaging in SNAP fraud or abuse. Further, USDA offered an additional tool and requirement for states to crack down on food stamp fraud via use of a federal database to ensure applicants are truly qualified.

“These requirements will make us better at identifying potential fraud and abuse before it occurs, as well as help us hold bad actors even more accountable than in the past and discourage them from abusing the public’s trust,” said Concannon.

USDA further claimed they have sent letters to the CEOs of Craigslist, Ebay, Facebook and Twitter seeking their aid in preventing the illegal sale or purchase of food stamps. The agency also pointed out that they have proposed a rule to allow states to require individuals needing numerous EBT replacements to check in with the state. USDA adds that they have increased documentation for “high-risk” retailers to redeem SNAP benefits.

Concannon also released the fraud activity numbers from the third quarter of fiscal year 2012, Thursday. In that time, the agency permanently disqualified 1,016 stores from the program for trafficking SNAP benefits and imposed sanctions on 574 retailers guilty of violating program rules.

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