WASHINGTON, D.C. — USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon announced first quarter results for fiscal year 2012 in the effort to identify and eliminate fraudulent retailers from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). From Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, 2011, USDA staff took final actions to:
• Sanction, through fines or temporary disqualifications, more than 225 stores found violating program rules; and
• Permanently disqualify over 350 stores for trafficking in SNAP benefits (i.e. exchanging SNAP benefits for cash).
These enforcement actions are part of the Obama Administration’s ongoing Campaign to Cut Waste and root out fraud and abuse in federal programs, including SNAP. While fraud is a relatively limited problem in SNAP – the violating stores represent less than ½ of one percent of more than 230,000 food stores authorized to redeem benefits – no level of fraud is tolerated. USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service conducts ongoing surveillance and investigation, to find bad actors and remove them from the program. In fiscal year 2011, FNS reviewed over 15,000 stores, and permanently disqualified over 1,200 for program violations.
USDA is building upon strategies recently announced to further strengthen anti-fraud efforts in the retailer application process. To help reduce the number of disqualified stores that return to the program by falsifying information in their applications, USDA is announcing new measures to strengthen the program:
• Increasing documentation required for high-risk stores applying to redeem SNAP benefits to better verify their identity and assure their business integrity. High-risk stores are those located at the site of a previous disqualification.
• Verifying high-risk stores to confirm application information. High-risk stores are those located at the site of a previous disqualification. Store owners found to have falsified information with the intent to hide ownership or past violations will be charged, disqualified and may be liable for a $10,000 fine or imprisonment for as long as 5 years or both.
• Continuing to notify state departments and federal agency partners about violators to better protect our public programs. This includes information on program recipients with suspicious transactions at stores known to be trafficking for further investigation by States.
In addition, USDA will soon publish a proposed rule strengthening sanctions and penalties for retailers who commit fraud in SNAP. USDA’s new Fighting SNAP Fraud website (www.fns.usda.gov/fightingsnapfraud) will also help raise awareness of the issues and provide a direct portal to report suspicious activities. Concannon announced new anti-fraud activities in December. The announcement continues the USDA’s commitment to promote integrity in SNAP, in order to assure the public’s confidence in this critical nutrition assistance program that serves over 46 million low-income and working Americans.
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service administers 15 nutrition assistance programs that in addition to SNAP include the National School Lunch Programs, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, and the Summer Food Service Program. Taken together, these programs serve as America’s nutrition safety net.
Program fraud complaints of any kind may be filed with the USDA Office of Inspector General; contact information is found at: http://www.usda.gov/oig/hotline.htm. Fraud may also be reported to the appropriate States. Phone numbers are available at http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/contact_info/fraud.pdf.