DC Abandons Ads Encouraging Public To Report Food Stamp Fraud

Thomas Phippen | Reporter

The District of Columbia’s health department has abandoned a taxpayer-funded advertising effort urging people to report food stamps fraud.

The posters, which the district’s Department of Human Services put up in metro stations around D.C., advertised to passersby if they “see fraud” relating to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamps or the cash welfare program Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), they should “report fraud.”

The ad, which went up as Congress considers greater restrictions to food stamp eligibility in the upcoming farm bill, “missed the mark,” the D.C. government said in a statement, apologizing for “sharing a message that is not a reflection of our values.” The decision to remove the advertisements came “in response to community concerns,” after “feedback that the campaign was not perceived in the way it was intended.”

Food stamps are federally funded benefits for food assistance, but state governments manage the program and are responsible for investigating and removing users who get benefits improperly or who use the benefits fraudulently. Food stamp fraud can include individuals trafficking the benefit cards for cash or drugs, purchasing ineligible items with the allotment, or store managers purchasing inventory with SNAP cards.

“The advertisements were intended to raise awareness of the program and help ensure that these crucial resources go directly to meeting the nutritional needs of District households,” the D.C. government said, adding funds for the ad campaign came from the Department of Agriculture, which oversees the program.

The funding was given to the district for the “explicit purpose of educating residents on ways to ensure the program can meet its goal of addressing food insecurity.”

In 2017, D.C. received part of a $3 million grant at building awareness for food stamps trafficking and misuse of benefits in an effort to reduce fraud. The district shared the funding with nine other states and the territory of Guam, a spokesman for the USDA told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

The funds from that grant must go exclusively toward building awareness of food stamps fraud, while D.C. will now “work with food insecurity stakeholders and our federal partners to identify more appropriate strategies to educate residents on ways to prevent fraudulent behaviors,” the District said.

D.C. has the highest percentage of food stamps recipients per capita in the country, with around 20 percent of the total population, or 134,625 individual recipients, receiving food stamps in 2016.

DHS did not return TheDCNF’s inquiry about what public comment it received, but a student blog post on Georgetown University’s Food Institute website April 12 — the day D.C. apologized for the ad campaign — decried the posters as “not reflective of DC Values.”

The authors make the points “almost no Metro rider could tell you what ‘SNAP FRAUD!’ actually looks like” and “there’s nothing mandating a public advertising campaign to enlist average citizens to call in anonymous tips based on their suspicions.”

State governments are required to investigate and prosecute SNAP fraud. However, D.C.’s fraud rate is low, according to statistics on food stamp fraud prosecutions — 122 individuals of 134,625 people receiving food stamps were disqualified after being prosecuted for food stamps fraud in 2016.

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