The United States Department of Agriculture has expanded its ability to go after abusers of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Whenever a program is put in place to help, there will always be those who find a way to take advantage for their own benefit. This has been the case with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Referred to as “the nation's first line of defense against hunger,” SNAP helps put food on the table for millions of low income families and individuals every month. SNAP is the largest of the 15 USDA nutrition assistance programs, and Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon recently announced tough new measures to ensure integrity in this nutrition safety net.
"Where there is a will to commit malfeasance, bad actors will try to find a way, and we must do everything we can to stay ahead of the curve," Concannon said in a release, adding that the new measures reaffirm the “USDA's ongoing commitment to cracking down on abuse and protecting taxpayers' investment in this critical nutrition lifeline."
Unfortunately, some recipients of SNAP abuse the program, finding ways to turn their SNAP benefits into cash. The USDA announcement addressed this problem and codifies an expanded legal definition of "trafficking" that incorporates not only the direct exchange of SNAP benefits for cash but other indirect methods of obtaining cash for SNAP benefits. For example, the expanded definition now includes so-called "water dumping," or the purchase (with SNAP benefits) of beverages in containers with returnable deposits for the sole purpose of discarding the contents and returning the containers to obtain cash refund deposits. Also included in the expanded definition is the sale or purchase of products originally purchased with SNAP benefits for purposes of exchanging those products for cash or other items.
The USDA is also seeking comment on a new proposal that would authorize USDA to immediately suspend payments to retailers suspected of flagrant trafficking violations from accepting SNAP benefits. Currently, when a retailer is suspected of trafficking, USDA must first conduct an investigation before suspending the retailer. If USDA determines that a retailer is a flagrant trafficker, the Department would be authorized to immediately suspend its redemptions. Such a step would happen concurrently with the retailer being charged; thereby allowing the Department to hold funds that might ultimately be forfeited by the store if the disqualification is upheld.
The USDA has front line responsibility for overseeing and enforcing the law with respect to the more than 238,000 retailers that are authorized to accept SNAP benefits. While the vast majority of businesses participating in SNAP are honest and play by the rules, the USDA continues to strengthen sanctions against those few bad actors seeking to take advantage of the program. Last year, USDA compliance analysts and investigators took action to permanently disqualify 1,387 stores for trafficking in SNAP benefits (i.e. exchanging SNAP benefits for cash) or falsifying an application.
For more information about USDA efforts to combat fraud, visit the Stop SNAP fraud website at www.fns.usda.gov/snap/fraud.
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