NY food stamp recipients sending food abroad, could be happening elsewhere

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Not only can the Agriculture Department boast that food stamps feed more than 47 million people in America annually, it turns out taxpayers are also inadvertently feeding ineligible people abroad.

The New York Post reports that New Yorkers are using their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards — a vehicle for government benefits like food stamps and cash assistance — to purchase groceries, package them in large barrels and ship them to relatives overseas in places like Jamaica, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

The Post reports that in the more Caribbean-heavy areas of the city, supermarkets offer hundreds of 45- to 55-gallon barrels for shipping.

Patrons pay roughly $40 in cash for the barrels and fill them with $500 to $2,000 worth of items like rice, beans, pasta, canned milk, and sausages, the Post reported, noting that the goods are less expensive and better quality than those available abroad.

For about $70 a shipping company will pick up the barrels and ship them to the Caribbean in about three weeks, according to the Post.

As an Agriculture Department spokeswoman told the paper, shipping food purchased with federally funded nutrition benefits is not an acceptable use of the benefits, which are meant to feed eligible people in America, and that state governments should be doing more to stop the practice.

The practice is relatively commonplace, according to the Post. But not everybody shipping food abroad is using welfare dollars to do so.

“Everybody does it,” a supermarket worker in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn told the Post. “They pay for it any way they can. A lot of people pay with EBT.”

And New York might not be the only place this benefit abuse is happening. On Monday, Boston Herald reported that similar barrels are available for purchase in Boston, as are the pick-up shipping services that send the benefit-bought goods abroad.

Massachusetts Republican state Rep. Shaunna O’Connell told The Herald she believes state regulators should investigate.

“If it’s happening in one state, it’s happening in many other states,” O’Connell said. “It’s just one of countless scams happening through the food stamp program.”

The United States spent $522.7 million on foreign aid to the Caribbean in the last fiscal year, according to government data obtained by the Post.

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