Congressional committee hears horror stories about food stamp fraud and abuse

Audit: Benefits paid to dozens of dead people
Posted at 6:03 PM, Jul 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-07 02:24:00-04

It's a nationwide program that impacts all of us. You either use it, or you pay for it.

Members of the House of Representatives Agriculture Committee heard from experts Wednesday who say it's infested with fraud.

The I-Team has reported on the issue for years, most recently in April, when owners of a small grocery story were hauled off to jail in handcuffs, accused of hundreds of thousands of dollars in food stamp fraud.

Police said at the time their meat market did about $200,000 a month in food stamp business, the same volume as an average Publix Supermarket.

Last year, we told you about a Largo store owner who was caught on camera agreeing to pay 50 cents on the dollar for benefits to an undercover cop.  

But it's not just a problem in Florida.

“Fraud and mismanagement undermine public support of this program,” said Ohio Auditor Dave Yost, who testified before the committee about food stamp fraud in his state.

“We identified 36 instances in which dead people received benefits more than a year after their deaths,” Yost said.

He also shared how recipients hoarded benefits.

“1,137 had a balance of greater than $2,300, about twice the maximum benefit for a family of eight,” Yost said.

His agency found one person had $20,000 on their card.

“If you can bank thousands of dollars, I would respectfully suggest you're not in immediate need,” Yost said.

Someone swiped cards at that exact same time, at the same store, for the same amount six months in a row.

One cardholder made six purchases in an hour at the same store totaling $1,555.

USDA officials testified they've recently cracked down on stores.

In Florida, 171 of 16,185 stores were disqualified last year, and the feds plan to crack down on recipients involved in fraud.

Here’s a map of bay area stores disqualified from the SNAP program between 2013 and 2015.

“If we are doing all this on the retail side and not doing anything on the recipient side, we are not going to stop this fraud and trafficking,” said Jessica Shahin, the USDA undersecretary who oversees the SNAP program.

“For those who hunger and those who pay the bill, we owe a greater effort toward integrity,” said Yost.

The SNAP program has increased from 17 million recipients in 2000 to nearly 47 million people now.

Redemptions in Hillsborough County are about $500 million a year.

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