Food stamp crime wave
According to liberals, we're not supposed to care about food stamp fraud. It's rare they tell us. You're going to have a little waste in every program, they say. Have a heart, we're scolded.
The number of food stamp recipients has soared more than 60% since 2007 - from 26 million to 44 million recipients. And things have gotten so bad, that most states aren't even bothering to prosecute food stamp fraud, and some actively discourage investigations.
Beginning with the Bush administration, government has been beating the bushes for new food stamp clients so that costs have now more than doubled - from $33 billion to $78 billion. The electronic food stamp card is a hot item in the inner city, being sold for as little as 50 cents on the dollar. Inmates game the system to get benefits despite being in jail. There is less testing, less oversight, and less enforcement of the law. Rather than get tougher standards, the Obama administration is cracking down on states that use fingerprint ID to guard against fraud.
And that fraud is massive:
The USDA's Food and Nutrition Service now has only 40 inspectors to oversee almost 200,000 merchants that accept food stamps nationwide. The Government Accountability Office reported last summer that retailers who traffic illegally in food stamps by redeeming stamps for cash or alcohol or other prohibited items "are less likely to face criminal penalties or prosecution" than in earlier years.
Lax attitudes toward fraud are spurring swindles across the nation:
• Earlier this month, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel revealed that Wisconsin food-stamp recipients routinely sell their benefit cards on Facebook. The investigation also found that "nearly 2,000 recipients claimed they lost their card six or more times in 2010 and requested replacements." USDA rules require that lost cards be speedily replaced. The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute concluded: "Prosecutors have simply stopped prosecuting the vast majority of [food-stamp] fraud cases in virtually all counties, including the one with the most recipients, Milwaukee."
• Perhaps the biggest fraud of all is the notion, which the USDA has been touting lately, that the food-stamp program is a nutrition program. (The program's name was formally changed in the 2008 farm bill to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-SNAP-to make it sound more wholesome and attractive.) What is really does is boost caloric intake, which is why numerous studies (including a 2009 Ohio State University report) link food stamps to the worsening obesity epidemic among low-income Americans.
The USDA has vetoed all proposals from local or state governments to prevent food stamps from being used for junk food. With the feds' approval, food stamps are increasingly being redeemed at fast-food restaurants-one of the primary culprits in ballooning American bellies.
There is little doubt that in these hard times, many millions of Americans need food stamps to feed their family. But insuring that taxpayer dollars are carefully spent must be of paramount importance. That means giving food stamps only to those who truly need them, and preventing others from gaming the system to enrich themselves.
How hard can that be?