Massive food stamp fraud uncovered

The very expensive ($70.9 billion in 2016) federal food stamp program (officially: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) is an open invitation to fraud.  The latest indicator comes from Jacksonville, Florida. (Channel 4 in Jacksonville) reports:

Sheriff Mike Williams announced Tuesday the results of a multi-agency, undercover investigation into the exchange of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits for cash and, in at least one case, cocaine.

From 2012 to 2017, Jacksonville Sheriff's Office detectives, working with federal and state agencies, documented more than 22,000 fraudulent transactions involving $3.7 million in taxpayer money.

"These people are selling or stealing money from hardworking taxpayers right here in our community, and they are abusing a program that is meant to help people," Williams said.

Williams said that during Operation Half-Back, undercover officers personally observed 115 individuals in 390 fraudulent transactions from February to July 2017.

Investigators said those with SNAP/EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) cards would give their PIN number to the buyer, and that money would then be deposited into their accounts.

Williams said, in most cases, the food-stamp recipient received 50 cents per $1 of SNAP benefit used.  Each transaction was recorded.

This operation required a heavy investment of law enforcement resources, it should be noted, making the actual cost of the fraud much higher than the $3.7 million total stolen from taxpayers.  Having officers observe 390 transactions eats up a lot of time.  News4Jax recorded some of the arrests in this video:

And provided this image of the suspects:

The SNAP program ballooned under President Obama (up 42%).  But it is worth noting that even under George W. Bush, the program metastasized – almost as if people had motives other than a true need for food in enrolling:


A similar story came out of Worcester, Massachusetts, where $3.6 million was stolen, resulting in a mere one-year prison sentence for the woman who was the ringleader.

This endemic fraud is the reason why President Trump's proposal to move toward food boxes makes great sense, despite the ridicule and specious criticism it elicited.

Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney explained that "part" of food stamp recipients' benefits would "come in ... a Blue Apron-type program where you actually receive the food instead of receive the cash."

The proposal, called "America's Harvest Box," would reportedly contain "homegrown" products, sourced from American farmers and producers.  Shelf-stable milk, juice, grains, cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans, canned meat, poultry or fish, canned fruit and vegetables are among the items that would be included in the box. ...

[T]he rest of their benefits would be provided on electronic benefit cards as they are currently.

Mulvaney claimed that the change would allow the government to save nearly $130 billion over 10 years, as it would lower government costs because it could buy the products at wholesale prices.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue asserted that the box would maintain "the same level of food value as SNAP participants currently receive," calling it a "bold, innovative approach to providing nutritious food to people who need assistance feeding themselves and their families."

It is much more difficult to turn a food box into spendable money than a credit card-like SNAP card.  Boxes are not fungible the way electronic finds are.  And they don't contain junk food.