November 26, 2014

Bill establishes FoodShare fraud penalties

Legislation being proposed at the Capitol would enable expanded enforcement against food stamp fraud in Wisconsin. Under current law, the Department of Health Services administers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the food stamp program and currently known as FoodShare, under which eligible low-income individuals and families receive cash assistance to purchase food.

Current law provides penalties for various offenses related to SNAP, though prosecutors have been unable to charge people who traffic in FoodShare fraud. Under the bill (SB78/AB82), SNAP trafficking would include anyone who:

 1. Buys, sells, steals, or otherwise exchanges SNAP benefits issued and accessed through the electronic benefit transfer program, or manually, for cash or other consideration.
2. Exchanges firearms, ammunition, explosives, or controlled substances for SNAP benefits.
3. Uses SNAP benefits to purchase food that has a container deposit for the sole purpose of returning the container for a cash refund.
4. Resells food purchased with SNAP benefits for cash or other consideration.
5. Purchases, for cash or other consideration, food that was previously purchased from a supplier using SNAP benefits.
State Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) said the bill will bring Wisconsin in line with federal law. “We couldn’t prosecute before, because we hadn’t codified the federal law,” Darling told the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services. “That’s a substantial penalty and will hopefully be a disincentive to those who are considering trafficking. It’s been quite easy for individuals to abuse this benefit.”

The bill’s Assembly author, state Representative Samantha Kerkman (R-Powers Lake) said that her constituents are ever vigilant for FoodShare fraud. “They call me up on little tips,” said Kerkman. “Our constituents are really the eyes and ears, because the police can’t be everywhere.”