Earlier this year, the Trump administration’s budget proposed slashing $193 billion from the food stamp program over the next decade. The food stamp cuts, which represents a 25% decrease from existing levels, were described by the White House as “reforms that tighten eligibility and encourage work.” The proposed budget seeks to “close eligibility loopholes, target benefits to the neediest households, and require able-bodied adults to work.”
After the latest budget was released last week, news outlets began carrying stories about food stamp fraud, including those that take place online. Believe it or not, people are buying and selling food stamps on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Craigslist.
“Some people are getting really stupid. They showed on the news tonight people selling food stamps on Facebook and Craigslist. Why would you put that on Craigslist and Facebook; messing it up for people that really need their food stamps to buy food,” was a comment by Facebook user Monique Mosely back in April.
The USDA’s website has a page dedicated to food stamp fraud, but its information is outdated by at least five years. Today, food stamp fraud is more prevalent than ever, and a search on Facebook or Twitter will prove it.
Type in the words “food stamps for sale” and see how people are taking advantage of a program that’s supposed to help needy families.
“Food Stamps for sale … 50¢ on a $1.00”
“Food stamps for sale??? Me and my kids need um ‼️ ‼️”
“Anybody got food stamps for sale? I’m having a cookout next Saturday.”
“Speaking of government assistance who got some food stamps for sale.”
For every person who is looking to buy, there’s someone happy to sell their own (or someone else’s) government “benefits”.
Jaswinder Singh, owner of a mini-mart in Norfolk regularly takes food stamps, which are more commonly referred as EBT cards. “They buy on the first of the month on EBT, so they buy a lot of food,” he said, noting that customers sometimes ask for cash back, but doing so is against the law.
Food stamps are only supposed to buy food. They are not supposed to be worth money. However, cases of food stamp fraud are at an all-time high.
Approximately 46 million people received food stamp benefits averaging $258 a month in 2015.
Another store owner, Howard Piland, of Suffolk, Virginia pointed out that the consequences of food stamp fraud run deep. “It’s bad, because the people who are out here selling these cards… they got kids at home, and so the kids are the ones who are going to suffer, because they’re not going to get anything to eat,” Piland said.
Officials such as Tom Steinhauser, Director of Benefits Programs at the Virginia Department of Social Services, said that it’s nearly impossible to pursue people who commit this kind of fraud. He explained that by the time a local investigator gets the fraud referral, the post has been taken down or the deal has already gone through.
Individuals who do get caught can be prosecuted and face prison time. “They can have an administrative qualification, so they can’t participate in the program, and most often, they have to repay the benefits,” said Steinhauser.
However, state reports show that in 2015, there were convictions in only 180 of the 13,202 fraud cases.
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