Food stamp fraud and the opioid epidemic: More reasons to go to food boxes

A couple years ago, someone who stole $3.5 million from the government food stamps program was sentenced year in jail.

WORCESTER – A federal judge Monday sentenced a local woman to a year in jail and ordered her to forfeit $3.5 million and pay restitution in what lawyers said was the largest food stamp fraud case in Massachusetts history.

Vida Ofori Causey, 46, owner of J&W Aseda Plaza at 753 Main St., pleaded guilty in December to charges of conspiracy to commit Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits fraud, SNAP fraud, and money laundering in a $3.6 million cash-for-benefits scheme.

The scheme involved buying food stamps for 50 cents on the dollar while charging the government the full value of the benefit.  In a four-year period, Mrs. Causey rang through more than $3.6 million worth of benefits from a three-aisle convenience store in Main South.

The Worcester Telegram story is pretty emblematic of the widespread level of fraud out there in the federal food stamp program and, as the left howled, probably why the Trump administration moved to change half the benefit from food stamps to food boxes.  Food boxes are quite a bit harder to offload to store owners for cash at the local convenience store.

But oh, how the left howled, effectively taking a stand for fraudsters.

Actually, the fraud is pretty typical.  Breitbart News, in its story titled "The Seven Biggest Takedowns of Food Stamp Fraud in 2017," notes that most of the miscreants caught were convenience store owners who bought food stamps at a discount for cash – say, 50 cents on the dollar – and then got reimbursed by the government for the full cash-value amount.  Amazingly, nearly all of them got one- to three-year sentences in jail for the multimillion-dollar thievery.

Yes, running a convenience store is hard and often not profitable.  But stealing is never right, even if it's from "only" the taxpayers, and there are many convenience store-owners who do not commit this kind of fraud.  Apparently, it's "rampant," according to the Chicago Tribune, writing in 2016.  Yet despite the large amounts taken, the penalties are very low.  A year for stealing three million bucks?

By comparison, bank robbers get 10 to 25 in the slammer for an average take (as of 2012) of $9,521.

And while about half to three quarters of bank robbers are caught, the risk of getting caught at food stamp fraud is low, too, according to the Chicago Tribune.  Food stamp fraud costs a billion dollars a year and undoubtedly contributes to the opioid epidemic in run down areas, where cashed out food stamps go to the purchase of illegal drugs.

With the risk-to-reward ratio quite high for robbing banks and quite low for food stamp fraud, you can see why so much of this is going on.

Food boxes replacing food stamps would end the problem right away.  Nobody is going to buy government-issued cheese food product at the convenience store counter in exchange for a cut-rate cash, at least not in bulk, presumably to resell to who knows whom, and certainly not when the revenooers are around looking for violators.  If the storage and distribution of food boxes would add costs to the federal food stamp program, the billion-dollar fraud that we know about now (and I am sure it is more) would be cut to $500 million, a significant savings for the taxpayers.

For now, the status quo among the dishonest will remain.  Why rob banks when you can make so much more stiffing the government through food stamp fraud?  And the left will go on howling about how bad food boxes are.

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