USDA cracks down on food stamp fraud

Tuesday - 2/28/2012, 9:38am EST

Audrey Rowe, administrator, Food and Nutrition Services Administration, USDA

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture is taking a harder line on fraud in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program.

USDA is increasing the documentation that stores who participate in SNAP must submit. The agency is also doing a "collateral check" to compare information provided by stores with information from other databases, such as tax forms and health department licensees, said Audrey Rowe, administrator of the Food and Nutrition Services Administration at USDA, in an interview with The Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

The agency has also "strengthened" the website Fighting SNAP Fraud that describes fraud prevention efforts and explains how people can help fight fraud themselves.

"Sometimes I find it interesting, when I'm talking to people and I'm talking about this program, they'll say, 'Oh yeah, I've had people approach me when I walk into a grocery store to buy groceries.' Well, that's trafficking," Rowe said.

The crackdown also includes on-site visits. Rowe said she herself has participated in these in-person investigations.

"I actually ended up making a purchase for an item that was an ineligible item to be purchased under the food stamp program," Rowe said.

In the first quarter of fiscal 2012, USDA has temporarily disqualified 225 stores and permanently disqualified 350 stores, Rowe said.

This spring, USDA will launch a new alert system that will provide real-time information on participating stores, Rowe said.

The stepped-up efforts come as the House Oversight and Government Reform has increased scrutiny of the SNAP oversight efforts.

"With record numbers of Americans using food stamps, with an annual price tag of $75.3 billion, anything short of rigorous anti-fraud measures will be very costly to taxpayers," wrote committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) in a letter to USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon.

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