published Sunday, August 31st, 2014

Food stamps at 50: Help needed

Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Food Stamp Act of 1964.

The law without question has kept many people, especially children, from going hungry. One source placed the number at 4 million, including 2.1 million children, in 2012.

But what's now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), now employed through electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards instead of the stamps it started with, is also rife with abuse.

Benefits, transferred to EBT cards, are supposed to be used only for healthy foods such as bread, cereal, fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products, according to the United State Department of Agriculture. Supposedly verboten are hot food, pet food, soap, household supplies, beer, cigarettes and wine. But SNAP historically has not been good at enforcing its own rules.

Thus, as enrollment in SNAP rose from 26 million Americans (one in 12) in 2007 to nearly 47 million (one in seven) in 2012, abuse of the program in an increasingly technological world did not abate.

The amount of SNAP benefits paid in error was about $2.2 billion in 2009, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). And a 2012 report by the United States Department of Agriculture put the amount of food stamp fraud at $750 million, more than double the amount from a 2006-2008 study.

Tennessee and other states have passed laws to try to curb this abuse. One of the laws (Public Chapter 312) prohibits the use of EBT cards (which also hold Temporary Assistance for Needy Families cash benefits) in liquor stores, casinos, gambling casinos or gaming establishments, and adult cabarets; requires the reimbursement of such money spent; and subjects abusers to fines. The other law (Public Chapter 402) provides additional investigative authority for such abuse.

Nevertheless, a 15-month investigative report by a Memphis television station earlier this year -- after the laws went into effect -- found hundreds of purchases by EBT card holders at liquor stores, strip clubs and casinos.

In South Carolina, EBT fraud cases roses 1,000 percent from 2010 to 2011.

A GAO report released last week found that, during a 30-day testing period, one particular e-commerce website found "28 postings ... that advertised the potential sale of food stamp benefits in exchange for cash." And some recipients were exchanging their benefits online for money, housing or art, the report found.

There's even some question that enough of the benefits do what they're designed for. Indeed, according to the Government Accountability Office, "the literature is inconclusive regarding whether SNAP alleviates hunger and malnutrition in low-income households."

And, worst of all, instead of being a temporary assistance program as it was designed, the Food Stamp program has helped foster dependency. In one Heritage Foundation survey over 20 years, 40.8 percent of spending went to individuals who had been on the program 10 or more years.

But relatively little is being done about the fraud. According to SNAP's own numbers, only "over 100 analysts and investigators" reviewed the practices of "over 15,000 stores" in 2012. But for the Affordable Care Act alone, the Internal Revenue Service asked for 6,700 new agents in 2013 on top of the 1,200 it already had.

Part of the problem, too, is that the federal and state governments blame each other for the problems. While the federal government runs the program, it is administered -- and fraud must be detected and prosecuted -- by each often cash-strapped state.

"The more governments that are involved," Nicole Kaeding of the Cato Institute correctly told the Washington Times, "the less they are accountable."

The GAO suggests improving financial incentives to the state for recovered overpayments, but that focuses the problem more on enforcement than on prevention, where it should be.

The real question should be, if the economy has improved as much as Obama administration officials say it has, why are there 40 percent more people on the food stamp program than there were five years ago?

To combat the problem in the short run, the administration should offer cards that do not permit illegal purchases and move some of its new IRS agents to stem the online fraud. In the long run, it should attempt to dial back the number of recipients to those for whom the food will truly make a difference and not those for whom the benefits are just extra spending money.

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aae1049 said...

Absolutely disgusting. Our country is full of people with no honor or self respect.

August 31, 2014 at 10:13 a.m.
Rickaroo said...

There is indeed widespread abuse of the Food Stamps (SNAP) program, but we mustn't overlook the fact that it still helps a lot of people in genuine need and who don't abuse it.

Here's a suggestion for reducing the number of recipients by at least 20-30% practically overnight: Increase the minimum wage! If Walmart and the other big box stores and the fast food franchises paid their employees at least $10/hr., that would go a long way towards getting a lot of people off the government dole. Republicans want to whine about the large number of people on food stamps and welfare and how wrong it is for government to sustain them, but they apparently have no problem with government subsidizing these extremely successful businesses that refuse to pay their employees a decent living wage.

And you conservatives...don't even think about dragging out your worn-out old excuse that raising the minimum wage creates more unemployment and brings down the economy. There has been no historical evidence whatsoever that supports that theory. In fact, in states where the minimum wage has been raised substantially over the current federal level, their economy is doing better than the states that have not.

August 31, 2014 at 12:45 p.m.
javelin363 said...

aae is absolutely right. These people have no honor or self respect! They know these people have no business buying these things with food stamps, but they sell them anyway to make a buck. These store people should be jailed!!!

August 31, 2014 at 4:57 p.m.
conservative said...

Around 50 million on food stamps is one of the proofs that America is past the point of no return in my opinion.

It should never have gotten anywhere near that mind boggling number.

I always look at the check out to see who is using one of the cards and what they purchased.

Most are overweight, many are smokers and many buy high dollar meats and seafood.

And many have two separate purchases, you know, the one for their alcohol and tobacco which they cannot use their get free food card for.

In fairness to them many are likely not going to eat that $10.00 pound steak and shrimp but sell it to a friend or relative for spending cash! Sarcasm.

I like to find other taxpayers who notice this scam also. You know, the ones you make eye contact with and you both roll your eyes.

I try to make eye contact with the fraudsters also but I have found very few of them will look around.

And then I notice what they are driving and of course many have SUVs.

If you know people on food stamps, you know very few are truly needing them.

August 31, 2014 at 5:48 p.m.
Ki said...

It would be near impossible for someone to buy non allowed food items on a food stamp card, as store registers are now computerized and designed to automatically separate non-food items from food items. Anyone using a food stamp card the register would automatically divide the food and non food items, and the person would have to pay for the non food item in cash. This piece is terrbly flawed and deceptive.

It's always interesting to note too, that some of the same people attacking food stamp recipients think nothing of getting their monthly SSI check for their disabled or autistic child.

Conservy, you might find it interesting to note that within that 50,000,000 many of those recipients are serving in the military, whose salaries are so low that they qualify for food stamp assistance. In fact, over 90% of the population that qualify for food stamp assistance work fulltime jobs. Some work more than one fulltime job.

August 31, 2014 at 6:39 p.m.
Ki said...

And no!* I don't use food stamps, before anyone tries to go there. I once worked at a children and family services agency where I handled the bulk of their case loads.

August 31, 2014 at 7:01 p.m.
aae1049 said...

I don't oppose food stamps for people that genuinely need the help. The rest selling the cards for cash...etc. They are everything that is wrong with our country.

August 31, 2014 at 7:41 p.m.
LibDem said...

Immigrants come here because we give them jobs. Food stamps are used for beer, wine and smokes because retailers deal. We seem to have some moral lapses.

August 31, 2014 at 8:31 p.m.
Ki said...

Actually, immigrants flee to the U.S. because we've flooded their countries with weapons so destabilized the region that they've been forced to flee.

And the few individuals who might have sold their foostamps did so to pay an important utility bill about to be shut off, such as heat or lghts, or to keep from being evicted and keep a roof over their children's heads.

August 31, 2014 at 9:43 p.m.
Hunter_Bluff said...

Conservy, Why don't you threaten them with one of your stem-winding sermons on sodomy, sodomites, etc?

September 1, 2014 at 9:09 p.m.
Hunter_Bluff said...

aae....... Why on Earth is "honoring our country" more important than a fellow human's condition? Are you really saying going hungry honors our country?

September 3, 2014 at 7:26 a.m.
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