Ed. Note: This has been cross-posted from the United States Department of Agriculture blog.
In recent years, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – formerly known as food stamps – has demonstrated an exceptional record in program integrity and stewardship of taxpayer dollars. The program currently serves as a bridge to success for over 46 million Americans who are at risk of being hungry when they face challenging economic times. More than half of those who rely on the program are children, elderly or the disabled, and many participants are newly unemployed and never thought they would be living in poverty. The program has never been more important and neither has the need to be a good steward of its dollars. In this vein, President Obama and Vice President Biden launched the Administration’s new Campaign to Cut Waste in government spending in June to eliminate misspent tax dollars and USDA strongly supports this effort.
Today we are reinforcing this commitment, strengthening our resolve to ensure program integrity and working on behalf of American taxpayers to protect the federal investment in SNAP and make sure the program is targeted towards those families who need it the most. While we recognize that fraud occurs relatively infrequently in SNAP, it has great potential to undermine public confidence in government and jeopardize the ability of the program to serve the millions of struggling families who rely on benefits each month.
Thankfully, the vast majority of SNAP recipients are honest people who spend their benefits to meet basic nutritional needs and to put food on the table. Data shows that illegal activity – such as selling benefits to others for cash – only affects roughly one cent on the dollar. Still, we cannot tolerate even the smallest abuse of taxpayer resources. That’s why we have implemented aggressive strategies to continue to improve SNAP integrity.
We actively investigate illegal activity so that we can remove any violators from the program. In fiscal year 2010 investigations of individuals and retailers resulted in over 44,000 persons being disqualified from SNAP and 931 retailers being permanently barred from accepting benefits. Going forward, we’re seeking to increase sanctions and penalties for retailers who engage in fraudulent activity and we’re using the regulatory process to fight the practice of buying and discarding food just to get money-back deposits.
By using state-of-the-art technology, our data-mining and analysis strategies are successfully identifying suspicious patterns in SNAP transactions. We’re already working on our next-generation system which will be even more effective. We’re aware that social media monitoring is also important to our efforts to prevent abuse in the program. For example, we recently updated our policies to make it very clear that advertising the sale of benefits through social media is illegal.
Again, cases of abuse in SNAP are relatively rare. But it’s important that we work to combat any amount of fraud. That means being aggressive in our investigations and working with our State partners who administer the program to remain vigilant and ensure that program benefits are used as intended. I’m proud to say that USDA takes protecting taxpayer dollars very seriously and we are on the job 24 hours a day to make sure others do too.