Just How Widespread Is SNAP Abuse?

A few days ago, I posted about Christine Rousselle’s column in Providence College’s The College Conservative and the abuse of food programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) previously known as “food stamps”. In the comments area, we had a discussion about how widespread the level of fraud actually is as some posted their own anecdotal experiences.
Tonight I found an actual release about the reported levels of fraud and misuse in the plan, as well as the USDA’s plans to clean up the problems. I’m sure some will look at this report with the same trust as Cicilline/Esserman crime statistics, but this is all I have to go on.

Over 98% of those receiving SNAP benefits are eligible and payment accuracy was 96.19%

And how widespread is the actual documented fraud?

In fiscal year 2010, States conducted 847,136 fraud investigations. In fiscal year 2011, States disqualified 44,483 individuals.

I had also mentioned the problem with turning SNAP money into cash. The release claims

Over the last 15 years, USDA has aggressively implemented a number of measures to reduce the prevalence of trafficking in SNAP from 4 percent down to its current level of 1 percent.

That is nice that the “SNAP for cash” exchange has dropped that much very often due, as Warrington Faust suggested, to the change from paper coupons to an electronic debit card. However, the USDA admits that there is still about 1% of their budget still being lost to this kind of abuse.
So instead of percentages, what are the hard numbers? These numbers when looked at as percentages, don’t look so bad. Thousands of individuals have been removed for fraud and the USDA claims a 1% fraud rate. Scoff all you want, I’m just going by the reported numbers here.
After multiple searches, the only place I could find actual numbers unfortunately is Wikipedia. According to the site, the SNAP program was budgeted for $64.7 billion in 2010. So that 1% fraud and waste? $647 million.
Another vector for that $647 million was also uncovered in Maine, this time in Bangor.

After purchasing a reported 20 24-packs of bottled water, on sale that week for $2.99 a case before taxes and redemption fees were added, the men went behind the store to the loading dock and poured the contents of each bottle on the ground. Shortly thereafter, a reporter also witnessed the pair wheel their shopping cart into the vestibule of the store, feed the 480 bottles into a redemption machine and claim their cash value at the customer service counter.
In a ploy a number of the store’s employees describe as common, these men had found a way to turn their funds from the federally administered Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, into cold, hard cash, which can then be used to purchase items that do not meet the program’s guidelines.

Literally throwing taxpayer money down the sewer.
The total number of people on the SNAP program as of June 2011 was slightly more than 45 million. With that earlier statistic of 44,483 being disqualified from the program due to fraud, that also points to a 1% number of people. Granted, that is the number who were egregious to the point of removal. I don’t believe that only those 44,000 participate in fraud nor do I believe everyone who was caught was removed from the program.
So are these numbers massive and widespread? I’ll let the reader be the judge of that. In this case, I’m just being the messenger.

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Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
10 years ago

Posted by Patrick Laverty
“That is nice that the “SNAP for cash” exchange has dropped that much very often due, as Warrington Faust suggested, to the change from paper coupons to an electronic debit card.”
For many years, I owned a property in middle class town. Across the street was a “mom & pop” variety store. I knew from gossip that buying food stamps sustained them. Of course, this requires the cooperation of the owner/cashier. I suspect their cooperation was enhanced by the competition from a recently opened Cumberland Farms store. The proximate cause of their demise was a habit of grabbing off a little lottery cash.
I think fraud has been further reduced by the increase of cotporate “C stores” and the demise of “mom & pops”. Still, when you drive through areas where you would expect SNAP participation to be high, you will also notice a large number of Mom & Pops.

swamper
swamper
10 years ago

I’m more inclined to believe that the majority of the fraud left uncovered is in the qualification process.
The simple solution to so many of our problems is the elimination of cash itself. Replace cash with debit card spending. I could go on and on about the potential benefits of ridding our society of cash. Need assistance? Let’s have a look at your spending habits. Taxation? At the cash register. Black markets? Whacked into oblivion almost overnight. Bank robberies? Why?
There’s not a whole lot of activity to my right. It pains me to even suggest such an idea due to the potential governmental abuse of privacy issues. But I’m afraid that cash itself should go the way of wampum.

seirra1
seirra1
10 years ago

“Over 98% of those receiving SNAP benefits are eligible”
This is my beef with welfare, snap, SSI, SSDI, RICare, etc…What is the standard for “eligible”. I think we can all agree that there exists in this country a certain section of the population who are truely helpless and in need of these programs. But my experience (which I admit is jaded due to the line of work) is that most (yes, most) of the people receiving public assistance are able bodied people who could work and live without the help but are either too lazy or too stupid to do it. I’m sure it’s part of their culture for it to be perfectly acceptable to live off the government in exchange for nothing. I think the eligible standard needs to be tightened a bit.
The latest thing you’re paying for is a taxpayer subsidized cell phone! Not a knock-off but a decent phone with text-messaging. Why is this ok? What need do they have for a $200 cell phone? Do you think they’ll be using them to check on the status of the resume they judt dropped off?

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
10 years ago

Posted by seirra1
” I’m sure it’s part of their culture for it to be perfectly acceptable to live off the government in exchange for nothing.”
As I understand it, 50% of workers pay no income tax. So, isn’t “welfare” the norm? Shouldn’t we call those workers “moochers”? We are all tied into the welfare system, mortgage deductions, dependency deductions, interest deductions, capital gains, etc. etc.

swamper
swamper
10 years ago

“As I understand it, 50% of workers pay no income tax. So, isn’t “welfare” the norm? Shouldn’t we call those workers “moochers”?” WF
That’s quite a leap in a single bound. I’m having trouble balancing that equation.

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