Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon has announced a broad range of additional strategies to further improve program integrity in USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and hold those misusing benefits accountable.
The measures include tougher financial sanctions for the small number of retailers that defraud the program and new requirements and tools for states to ensure benefits go solely to eligible individuals.
"USDA has a zero tolerance policy for SNAP fraud," said Mr. Concannon. "These additional measures reaffirm our ongoing commitment to ensuring these dollars are spent as intended–helping millions of people in need get back on solid economic footing."
The retailer sanctions proposal allows USDA to not only permanently disqualify a retailer who traffics, but also assess a monetary penalty in addition to the disqualification. Financial penalties would be proportional to the amount of SNAP business the store is conducting, which will help ensure that the financial punishment more closely fits the crime.
Currently, when a retailer is found guilty of fraud or abuse, USDA can either disqualify the retailer from participating in SNAP, or issue a financial penalty, but not both.
The announcement includes new requirements for states to take specific actions that would catch fraud and abuse on the front end and ensure that ineligible people do not participate in the program. The new standards strengthen integrity by giving States an additional tool to identify cases that may require further investigation and review when an applicant or recipient is found in a Federal database.
"These requirements will make us better at identifying potential fraud and abuse before it occurs, as well as help us hold bad actors even more accountable than in the past and discourage them from abusing the public's trust," said Mr. Concannon.
Also released were the third quarter, fiscal year 2012 results of USDA work in fighting fraudulent activity in SNAP retail stores, tallying final actions to sanction or disqualify retailers violating program rules. In that quarter, USDA staff took final actions to:
• Impose sanctions, through fines or temporary disqualifications, on more than 574 stores found violating program rules; and
• Permanently disqualify 1,016 stores for trafficking SNAP benefits (i.e. exchanging SNAP benefits for cash) or falsifying an application.
For more information about USDA efforts to combat fraud, visit the Stop SNAP fraud website at www.fns.usda.gov/snap/fraud.