Move to Reduce Fraud in Food Assistance Program

State Representative Tim Schaffer (R-Lancaster) has introduced legislation requiring photo identification on “food stamp” cards. 

The legislation is in partnership with State Senator Matt Huffman (R-Lima), who will carry a similar bill in the Senate, and State Auditor Dave Yost. 

“House Bill 50 will improve the integrity of the electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known formerly as ‘food stamps,’”Schaffer said. “It will safeguard the benefits for those who need them and are legally entitled to them, as well as deter crime and drug abuse.”

In a Wednesday press conference with Yost, Schaffer and Huffman highlighted examples of how the illegal trafficking in EBT food cards helps fuel the illegal drug trade. 

“This legislation will help deter and detect criminal activity that we know goes on today where cards are sold or traded for cash or drugs,” Schaffer said.

Schaffer cited reports from citizens in his district who have witnessed the illegal trafficking of EBT food cards in grocery store parking lots. He also said police in his district have complained that they seize “stacks and stacks” of the cards in drug busts along with cash.

“No one loses benefits or has their rightful access to groceries delayed under this bill,”Schaffer said. “This legislation is designed to improve the delivery of SNAP benefits to the children, senior citizens and disabled citizens who depend upon the program for daily sustenance.”

According to the State Auditor’s office, in 2015 there were 824,231 primary SNAP accounts,or assistance groups, in Ohio. More than $2.5 billion in federally funded SNAP benefits were disbursed that same year in Ohio. 

The federal government says food stamp fraud costs federal taxpayers as much as $750-million per year. In an investigation conducted by the State of California in 2012 and 2013,2,600 instances of people trying to illegally sell SNAP cards on social media like Craig’s List were identified, wasting more than $20 million of taxpayer resources.

Auditor Yost’s office completed an audit of Ohio’s food stamp program last year and it found that while fraud was not rampant in the program, there are some aspects of the program that can be improved to protect the integrity of the program. Some of the unusual activity reported included frequent transactions in the exact same dollar amount, frequent manual card number entry, repeated replacement of benefits cards,consecutive transactions in a one-hour period and excessive attempts to enter a pin. 

Other irregularities included benefits being used after the beneficiary was deceased and out-of state spending that totaled $28.7 million for states not bordering Ohio such as Florida, Texas and Georgia.

“I’m looking forward to working with Auditor Yost to address inefficiencies in the SNAP program,” Schaffer said. “No one will lose their benefits under this legislation, and it will help ensure that their benefits are not being abused by others through fraud or theft.”

While retailers will not be required to check the photo upon checkout or be allowed to delay or halt a purchase, the legislation will require a phone number on the back of the card for a hotline one can call to report fraud.

“This will not solve every problem with the system, but the photo will act as a deterrent for those who try to steal or abuse the benefits of Ohio’s neediest families.” Schaffer added.

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