Law enforcement officers in Polk County, Fla., arrested 11 suspects with two still on the run Friday for using illegally obtained food stamp benefits.
The local sheriff’s office made the arrests after an almost year-long investigation. The suspects were allegedly able to make unauthorized food stamp purchases through illegally obtained Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards. The government-issued debit card replaced printed food stamps as part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
[dcquiz] “It’s pretty sad when you steal money from a program designed to help the poor,” Sheriff Grady Judd said in a statement. “The taxpayers should be outraged with this fraud.”
SNAP is the largest food-assistance program in the country. The size of the program and potential for abuse has prompted concern among many lawmakers. According to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the program has increased from 17 million participants in 2000 to nearly 47 million in 2014.
“We are committed to working with DCF and our retail partners to crack down on those who intentionally defraud our government assistance programs,” Judd added. “These programs are for people who need them, not a bunch of thieves taking advantage of the system.”
The USDA works in partnership with state agencies to administer benefits. The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) assisted law enforcement throughout the investigation. The improved economy has helped decrease the number of participants in recent years. The Congressional Budget Office found, since participation hit its peak in December 2012, the number of people receiving benefits has declined by more than 1.5 million.
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