Republican Rep. Bob Gibbs warned Wednesday that systematic food stamp abuse will undermine taxpayers trust along with the program itself.
Gibbs has been among a handful of lawmakers seeking to fix fraud and abuse present within the food stamp program. He has attended multiple congressional hearings with the aim of finding the best solutions from federal administrators and experts. Gibbs said that the issues pose a huge problem for those who truly need help.
[dcquiz] “They need to have clear calls put in place when red flags come up when there are excessive imbalances and unusual activity,” Gibbs told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “It goes to the integrity of the program. If taxpayers think there’s fraud, abuse and waste it doesn’t help people at all.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the main federal agency that administers the national food stamp program. It works with state agencies to make sure benefits are properly distributed to qualified individuals and families. Nevertheless, fraud occurs, sometimes on a massive scale.
“States are going to have to work with the USDA,” Gibbs continued. “There need to be more cross referencing with records between states to make sure people aren’t double dipping and technology allows them to easily do that. I think states ought to be empowered and provided resources to help with those investigations.”
Some states have used audits to find abuse, but many states have not done as extensive a review. Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost found during a full audit June 28 vast abuse in the food stamp program. He detailed his findings before Gibbs and other lawmakers Wednesday during a congressional hearing.
“We might have to do some legislation to reform or mandate,” Gibbs stated. “That’s why we’re having all these hearings. To Better understand the mechanics of how the program works. I think we have some structural deficits within the program and we need to address that.”
The food stamp program has taken steps to modernize over the decades like the use of Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards. The cards work like a personal debit cards, except they can only be used to purchased authorized items like food and basic necessities. Unusual transactions are easier to spot with the cards.
“Obviously when you have excessive balances on EBT cards and when you have unusual activities that was mentioned in the hearing today that we need to be able to address that,” Gibbs added. “Those are obviously red flags that there is abuse and fraud going on.”
Gibbs suggested an amendment to the farm bill that would end food stamp accounts that have been inactive for more than sixty days. The idea didn’t get much traction, but Gibbs plans to reintroduce the plan when the farm bill comes up for renewal again.
“We did offer an amendment in that would expunge balances after sixty days of inactivity,” Gibbs stated. “There is no rational thought how come you’d have balances like that. What’s the meat here. And unfortunately in the conference committee report for the farm bill that amendment was not included.”
The USDA has defended its efforts to curve abuse and fraud. The department constantly works with state agency to spot errors and issues penalties when those errors are determined to be some form of accidental or purposeful misuse. Retailers or recipients found trafficking could be suspended from the program permanently while other violations can result in fines or temporary disqualification.
The food stamp program is the largest nutritional assistance welfare service in the country. The USDA estimates the program has increased from 17 million participants in 2000 to nearly 47 million in 2014. It has declined by more than 1.5 million recipients since participation hit its peak in 2012 thanks in part to the improved economy, the Congressional Budget Office found.
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