As of Thursday, July 23, 2015
The food stamp program nationally was originally designed to give hungry residents the means to buy the staples they needed to feed themselves and their families. It was intended not for use for processed foods, treats and pop, but for fresh vegetables, meat and cooking and baking necessities.
Over the years, the program has been eroded so much that food stamp recipients can use their “electronic benefits card” to purchase most processed and prepared foods, as well as pop and other “treats.” While the cards cannot be used for alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and a few assorted other items, some food stamp recipients have found a way around the law — they sell their benefits card for cents on the dollar.
Thankfully, the state Department of Social and Health Services is watching, and now investigating fraudulent use of the food stamp, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The federal government has provided the agency with a $750,000 grant to investigate and arrest food stamp recipients who are fraudulently using the benefit paid for by taxpayers. This sting is long overdue.
The grant will help the agency catch fraudulent users who are selling and exchanging their benefit cards online or through the use of social media.
State officials say that food stamp fraud costs our state about $11 million per year. That’s not chump change.
That fraud is most obvious now on the Internet and through social media platforms, where 50 to 70 illegal benefit transactions occur daily through the “sale” of benefits cards, state officials say.
Buying and selling of benefits cards is a felony in Washington state. And those caught trafficking benefits cards could face up to five years in prison.
Unfortunately, the threat of prison is not enough to halt the fraudulent use of benefits cards. State agencies need to do more, starting with restricting the use of electronic benefits to basic food staples, as the cards were designed to be used. The state’s food stamp program should also have limits on the length of time users can get benefits.
Rather than give residents a lifetime supply of free processed foods, our state needs to encourage hungry residents to find a job and get off the public dole. Until we move people off this type of welfare and help them stand on their own two feet, fraudulent users will just find another way to take advantage of hardworking taxpayers.