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State Auditor Makes Dire Warning About National Food Stamp Abuse

Connor D. Wolf/DCNF

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Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost testified before congressional lawmakers Wednesday to warn abuse he uncovered in his state likely reflects a national issue.

Yost found during a full audit of his state June 28 vast abuse in the food stamp program. His audit spotted high instances of fraud, recipients with multiple accounts, unusually high transactions and unusual account imbalances. It even found several dead people receiving benefits. Yost warned lawmakers the issue is not limited to his state during a House Committee On Agriculture hearing.

“Our findings lead me to conclude that there are likely millions of dollars in fraud in Ohio’s $2.5 billion program,” Yost told the committee. “This is not limited to Ohio. Only about a quarter of the states have undertaken this sort of audit, but the results are similar across the country.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (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. The USDA admits abuse does happen, but notes there are tools in place to limit problems.

“We work together to make sure benefits are used as intended,” Food and Nutrition Service Administrator Jessica Shahin told the committee. “Retailers found trafficking are taken out of the program, permanently. Other violations can result in monetary fines or temporary disqualification.”

Each local agency is responsible for tracking errors, but few have done an audit of their own program. Yost believes reform is possible, but notes it should stem from local initiatives. He suggests the federal government should block-grant the program to each state agency to come up with their own solutions.

“While we can identify the problems, the solutions are often less obvious,” Yost continued. “When the federal government makes a change and there are unintended consequences, we all feel the pain if a reform fails. If the states develop their own management systems, failures will be limited to that state, and the successes and innovations will be there for others to copy.”

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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