Policy: Entitlements

Online food stamp fraud growing, GAO reports

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Food stamp fraud is so widespread that Government Accounting Office investigators found dozens of examples merely by searching online e-commerce sites like Craigslist.

One online posting in Raleigh, N.C., offered 10 days of cooking and cleaning services in exchange for food stamps. Someone in Charlotte offered to exchange beer for food stamps, according to GAO.

In Boston, $400 worth of electronic benefit-transfer cards were offered in exchange for $240 in cash. Another website offered to trade personalized artwork allegedly worth as much as $3,000 for food stamps.

Food stamps — administered by the Department of Agriculture's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — are supposed to give poor people the means to feed themselves.

The program reaches 47 million people at a cost of $76 billion yearly and has long been plagued with fraud.

Food stamps are not longer actually stamps, however, but rather government-issued electronic benefit cards that are accepted at most grocery stores. The program is funded by the federal government and administered by the states.

GAO reviewed EBT records from 11 states and found there aren't enough workers at the local level to effectively stop fraud with the EBT cards.

A big problem, according to GAO, is that too many state investigators are responsible for probing not only EBT fraud but also fraud in programs like Medicaid and housing assistance.

And the fraud problem will only get worse as the program gets bigger. The number of people getting food stamps has gone up by more than 40 percent since 2009, according to GAO.

"Such rapid program growth can increase the potential for fraud unless appropriate agency controls are in place to help minimize these risks,” GAO warned.

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Kelly Cohen

Staff Writer
The Washington Examiner

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