A joint federal and state welfare fraud investigation ended this week in Alabama with simultaneous police raids at 11 locations and 17 arrests related to improper transactions involving the SNAP food stamp system.
According to authorities, the early morning raids named “Operation T-bone” involved local convenience stores accused by Jefferson County District Attorney Brandon Falls of buying Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards from benefit recipients for half the actual value that were then “flipped” for more expensive food from wholesalers.
As a result, food stamp recipients collected cash to buy prohibited items that included alcohol and tobacco – products they are barred from buying with their welfare benefits. Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Raulston said:
“(Welfare recipients) are selling their cards to get those things.” “Part of the problem, in my opinion, is now they don’t have their food stamps card so they don’t have the money to take care of their families or themselves…” “I think it’s a huge cycle of remaining impoverished.”
EBT debit cards were introduced by the government to replace “paper” food stamps in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)… to take the stigma out of presenting paper food stamps for payment in grocery lines in front of third parties… and to dispense benefits to recipients each month electronically.
According to Connor Wolf writing for The Daily Caller:
“The investigation itself was a huge effort by local and federal agencies, including the District Attorney’s Office, the FBI, the Gardendale Police Department, the Alabama Department of Human Resources and the Secret Service along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) which administers the federal SNAP program.”
Chris Clark, the lead investigator in the case for the district attorney’s office, told the Alabama Media Group that it was the largest cooperative investigation he had ever been a part of and that participating agencies did anything they could to help – a partnership that Clark looks forward to continuing in the future.
Wolf continued his report by saying:
“SNAP is the nation’s largest food-assistance program. According to a report from the USDA, the program has increased from 17 million participants in 2000 to nearly 47 million in 2014. The size alone has prompted concern among many lawmakers of the potential for abuse.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which administers the nation’s many nutrition assistance programs, reports that trafficking in SNAP debit cards diverts an estimated $858 million each year from the food assistance.
Food stamp critics believe the rate is much higher citing the fact that the latest food stamp fraud numbers available from the government are only as current as 2011. Millions of recipients have been added to the SNAP program over the last four years.