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Ohio steps up efforts on food stamp fraud

Apr. 06, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

This week, Ohio became the third state to join a new U.S. Department of Agriculture effort to crack down on fraud in the federal food stamp program.

Most food stamp purchases are now handled electronically, using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) cards, which store clerks scan much like a debit card. Under this new program, the USDA shares that transaction data with the participating states and provides training on how to detect patterns of possible illegal activity.

Recent cases in our region show that vendors sometimes provide cash or alcohol as a food stamp charge, and often those locations redeem an inordinate amount of food stamps. In other cases, food stamp recipients simply trade or sell their cards to others, so a high number of requests for replacement cards might also indicate illegal activities.

Maryland and Virginia also have signed up for the program, and the USDA hopes the partnership allows investigators to police recipients as well as vendors.

"It's one thing to take the stores or the store owners out of the program, but there have to be consequences too for the individual households that may have trafficked benefits in those stores," the USDA's Kevin Concannon told the Dayton Daily News.

The USDA estimates that about 1 percent of food stamp benefits are misappropriated, although some critics think that is just the tip of the iceberg. But even at that level, it still represents about $746 million a year and an estimated $30 million in Ohio.

It is encouraging to see Ohio join the effort, and West Virginia and Kentucky should take that step as well.

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