Tricounty News

Stopping SNAP fraud in its tracks



By Kevin Concannon,

Undersecretary for Food,

Nutrition and Consumer Services

Americans expect and deserve a government that ensures their hard-earned tax dollars are managed with accountability and integrity. Without that commitment, we risk undermining public confidence in the value of SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. This critical nutrition program helps millions of people in need put food on the table through tough economic times until they can get back on their feet. In support of this commitment, and as part of the Obama Administration's ongoing Campaign to Cut Waste and root out fraud and abuse in federal programs, USDA announced new steps to strengthen anti-fraud efforts in SNAP.

In that same spirit, I am pleased to report on the first quarter results of our anti-fraud efforts in 2012. From Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, 2011, we penalized, with fines or a temporary disqualification, more than 225 stores found violating program rules, and we permanently disqualified more than

350 stores for trafficking SNAP benefits.

While fraud is a relatively limited problem in SNAP, the violating stores represent less than half of 1 percent of more than 230,000 food stores authorized to redeem benefits; we have a zero tolerance policy for fraud. USDA's Food and Nutrition Service conducts ongoing surveillance and investigation, to find bad actors and remove them from the program. In fiscal year 2011, FNS reviewed more than 15,000 stores, and permanently disqualified more than 1,200 for program violations.

As Undersecretary of the Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, at USDA, the federal agency that oversees the state administration of the program, and having run the program at the state level in Maine, Oregon, and Iowa, I know firsthand the importance of SNAP. I don't tolerate fraud and abuse in the program, and neither do the American taxpayers.

So last December, I announced new and expanded anti-fraud activities to strengthen USDA's commitment to promote and preserve the integrity of SNAP, a critical nutrition assistance program that feeds more than 46 million low-income and working Americans.

To adapt state-of-the-art technology to identify suspicious activity, we awarded a 10-year contract to further develop the next generation of fraud detection systems. We are in the process of developing even stronger sanctions and penalties against retailers that misuse the program, we are increasing documentation requirements to verify identity and assure business integrity as well as researching high-risk stores using tax and business databases, and we recently updated our policies to clarify that advertising the sale of benefits through social media is a violation.

To round out our aggressive steps to combating fraud and trafficking, we recently launched a Fighting SNAP Fraud website www.fns.usda.gov/fightingsnap

fraud, help raise awareness of the issues and provide a direct portal to report suspicious activities. Public assistance is vital to wiping out fraud and trafficking. If you see suspicious activity, report it. Or persons can always call our fraud hotline, at (800) 424-9121.

Taken together, these steps underscore USDA's commitment to combat fraud, waste and abuse and inspire the confidence in government Americans deserve. I'm proud to say that USDA takes protecting taxpayer dollars very seriously and we are working hard to make sure others do, too.