A Missouri convenience store owner and his son were indicted by a federal grand jury Tuesday for allowing customers to trade food stamps for synthetic drugs.
Haq Choudhry and his son Haris Nawaz operated Short Stop Convenience Store just outside Kansas City. They allegedly allowed customers on food stamps to trade their benefits for synthetic marijuana, reports the Kansas City Star. Federal prosecutors allege they conspired to defraud the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Choudhry and Nawaz would allegedly allow costumers to use their Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards to purchase the drugs. EBT cards are the main way food stamp recipients are able to access their benefits. They work like a personal debit cards, but for approved items like food. Choudhry and Nawaz allowed customers to use multiple cards belonging to other people.
The USDA is the main federal agency tasked with overseeing the national food stamp program. It works with state agencies to make sure benefits are properly distributed to qualified individuals and families struggling to feed themselves. It is the largest food assistance welfare service in the country.
Lawmakers over the years have often express concern over the size of the program and potential for abuse. Fraud is hard to detect under the program which, on top of its rapid growth, makes the program prime for abuse, according to the Government Accountability Office.
Work requirement and restrictions to criminals with drug related charges have been used to help mitigate the potential of abuse. Work requirements mandate that an able-bodied adult without children must work part-time or be involved in a jobs training program to qualify for food stamps. The restrictions were implemented in 1996 as part of the federal welfare overhaul push.
The USDA estimates the program has increased from 17 million participants in 2000 to nearly 47 million in 2014. 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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