About 25 years ago my wife and I were on a vacation trip in Hot Springs, Arkansas. We had just got out of our car on a downtown street near the post office when a wild-eyed, shaggy-haired young guy ran up to us. “Hey!” he yelled. “You guys wanna buy some food stamps? 50 cents on the dollar!”
We were so caught off-guard, all we could say was, “No thanks.” He ran off to the next stranger on the street – “Hey! You wanna buy some food stamps . . . ”
After we figured out what had happened, we realized we should have called the police. But we were a couple of naive middle-class Americans, who, like most, never had the time or inclination to figure out ways to commit fraud. It honestly never crossed my mind that one could sell his taxpayer-funded benefits at a discount, receive cash, and spend it on whatever floats his boat more than groceries for the kids.
Even then, before EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) cards, the fraud was painfully easy. Food stamps were printed on paper and they were as good as cash. I could have easily saved 50% on my next grocery shopping trip. And the “needy” young guy on the street could have landed a weekend supply of Ludes and Mary Jane, compliments of the taxpayers. Neither of those outcomes were the intention of LBJ, or the legislators who passed his Food Stamp Act in 1964 and upgraded it several times since, or the taxpayers who write checks to the IRS every year. Little did we know that the food stamp fraud problem was going to get worse – much worse – over time.
We all exchange frustration about being in the grocery checkout line behind somebody with a cart full of extravagant fare, paid with an EBT card. We are alarmed when we hear that SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) will cost over $84 billion in 2015. We wonder why schools plan to feed kids during the summer months, as well as throughout the school year, when their families already presumably receive food stamp benefits.
This week a Birmingham, Alabama task force raided twelve convenience stores and arrested 17 suspects involved in an alleged food stamp fraud ring. The convenience store owners had been buying EBT cards from their customers at 50 cents on the dollar, and using the cards to buy merchandise for resale, including steaks at Wal-Mart. Worse yet, some of the Muslim store owners were accepting EBT cards in exchange for cash payments to individuals in
Yemen. This was no small operation, as officials identified hundreds of thousands of dollars in fraudulent transactions. And authorities only have the resources to deal with a tiny tip of this huge Alabama iceberg. Food stamp fraud cases like this show an accelerating trend all over the country.
While it is somewhat reassuring that some fraud cases are being prosecuted, it is disheartening to know that we are not even scratching the surface. Citizens question why our government agencies aggressively promote benefit programs regardless of whether recipients are legal citizens or not. There is inadequate prevention and policing of the rampant fraud by both consumers and providers. Our border and immigration policies invite throngs of third-world indigents who hold little hope of becoming contributors to the economy and land here fully expecting benefits.
A group of clear-headed conservative Congressmen have lined up behind Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) to introduce the ‘SNAP Verify Act of 2015’ in hopes of putting the brakes on the food stamp fraud program. The law would require EBT users to present photo ID cards when making purchases.
Unfortunately, until Democrats and less-conservative Republicans recognize the scope of the problem, and put some teeth into enforcement, food stamp fraud will only get worse.
Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side
It’s a cheating situation,
A stealing invitation
To take what’s not really ours
To make it through the midnight hours