PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Families receiving food stamps would have to present photo identification when using electronic benefit cards to buy food under legislation being considered in Rhode Island.
The proposal is similar to others from lawmakers around the country who say requiring a photo ID would help discourage fraud in the food stamp program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
"This money doesn't come out of thin air," said the bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Patricia Morgan of West Warwick. "Fraud weakens the program. It's spending other people's money. There should be some responsibility for that privilege."
Fraud occurs when a recipient uses food stamps to purchase goods like alcohol or cigarettes that aren't covered by the program, or when they sell their benefits to a retailer in exchange for cash. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service, which administers the program, estimates the level of fraud in the program to be about 1 percent.
Nearly 180,000 Rhode Islanders receive food stamp assistance. The benefits are deposited onto an electronic benefit transfer card that looks like a credit or debit card.
Critics argue requiring photo IDs could create an administrative headache while stigmatizing the state's poorest residents. State Rep. Maria Cimini, D-Providence, noted that SNAP benefits are given to households, not individuals, so a photo ID rule could be problematic when a spouse or older child attempts to use the card.
"Obviously fraud is not something we want to perpetuate, but this is not necessary and it's not productive," said Cimini, who works as the coordinator of the SNAP Outreach Project for the state.
The federal government now allows states to put a recipient's photo on the card, something only Massachusetts has done so far. Requiring a separate photo ID would require federal authorization. Last year a proposal from Maine to require recipients to present a photo ID was rejected by federal officials.
Federal rules also require states to recognize food stamp cards from other states, meaning recipients from other states wouldn't be held to a photo ID requirement when shopping in a state that adopted one.
Morgan's bill is scheduled for a hearing Wednesday. No vote has been scheduled.