How much fraud is there really in the SNAP program?
No one knows - least of all the Department of Agriculture who is supposed to have a handle on how much taxpayer money is being flushed down the toilet by individual fraudsters who game the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamps).
In Iowa, a long time investigator with the state's Department of Inspections and Appeals scoffs at the idea that the Agriculture Department has any clue how much fraud is committed by individual recipients of SNAP benefits.
Dishman says the Food and Nutrition Service, the division of USDA that runs SNAP, doesn’t even have reliable data on the extent of fraud committed by recipients.
“There’s a lot of inconsistencies in the data they collect,” Dishman told Iowa Watchdog.
FNS investigates cases of SNAP fraud committed by vendors but leaves it to the states to investigate fraud by benefit recipients.
In 2013, DIA investigated 2,499 cases of potential fraud by SNAP recipients. In 1,749 of the cases, DIA discovered recipients either had provided incorrect information to the Iowa Department of Human Services, which administers SNAP benefits in the state, or had committed some form of deliberate fraud.
“If we can’t prove that it was an intentional violation, we turn the information over to DHS, so it can collect the overpayment,” Dishman said. “If we can prove it was intentional, there’s an administrative hearing process that will result in sanctions.”
In response to questions about its collection of data from the states about SNAP fraud, FNS provided Iowa Watchdog with a statement boasting about its success in reducing the percentage of people illegally selling their SNAP benefits. FNS claims that number has dropped from 4 percent of recipients to 1.3 percent during the past 15 years.
Asked about the 1.3 percent figure, Dishman said she doesn’t take it seriously.
“Everybody wonders where the hell they came up it,” she said with a little laugh. “Nobody can explain how they came up with that figure, because what we see is certainly more than that.”
Being sanctioned results in the individual losing SNAP benefits either permanently or for a period determined by an administrative judge. In particularly egregious cases, criminal prosecutions can occur.
The ag department appears to be getting a handle on vendor fraud, lowering the rate from about 10% to less than 5% in the last decade. But that's just a drop in the bucket compared to fraud by individuals - and no one bothers to keep national records on how much fraud is out there.
This is the result of bureaucratic inertia. There is massive fraud because the culture inside government doesn't penalize workers for missing it, or reward them for catching it. The bureaucrats get paid one way another, so what do you expect?
More accountability would be nice, but that would have to include firing incompetents - an impossibility considering the rules. Look at the VA bosses getting bonuses for turning the other way while people died from lack of care. Until civil service reform takes place, fraud in federal programs from SNAP to federal contracts for weapons systems will be with us.