SNAP trafficking: No more food stamps for cash, USDA says

Politics,Beltway Confidential,Michal Conger

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is cracking down on food stamp “trafficking” with new rules that make it illegal to indirectly trade food stamps for cash.

The USDA is targeting abuse of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, also known as food stamps, as part of its “campaign to cut waste.”

It’s already illegal to trade food stamps for cash, but the USDA wants to make it harder for people to get around the rules by cashing food stamps indirectly. One common method is what’s called “water dumping,” using SNAP benefits to buy water bottles and other containers that can be returned for refund deposits.

“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,” Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon said today in a statement. “Today’s announcement reaffirms USDA’s ongoing commitment to cracking down on abuse and protecting taxpayers’ investment in this critical nutrition lifeline.”

This doesn’t mean the USDA has any intention of spending less on its programs. The USDA has been pushing food stamps industriously, even marketing them to immigrants and encouraging food stamp parties to get more people enrolled.

Partly as a result of this aggressive marketing, SNAP participation is up 34 percent since the recession ended. As of November 2012, more than 47 million people were on the rolls, and the ranks grow by the hundreds of thousands each month. SNAP is the largest of USDA’s 15 nutrition assistance programs.

The USDA also wants to immediately freeze benefits for retailers suspected of SNAP trafficking, instead of waiting for the lengthy investigations required before a retailer can be permanently suspended. Last year, 1,387 stores were disqualified for not playing by the rules.

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