The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently unveiled a plan to combat food stamp fraud. The Food Stamp Program has become an increasingly major part of political infighting in Washington as farm bill debates have become increasingly wrapped up in debates over food stamp funding.
Over the past few years, food stamp participation has sharply increased, largely due to the economic recession and skyrocketing unemployment rates. Rates have increased from about 26 million in 2008 to about 46 million today.
While participation rates have gone up, some members of Congress see renewing the farm bill as an opportunity to significantly reduce food stamp funding. The Food Stamp Program is authorized under the farm bill and currently consists of about 80 percent of the total farm bill price tag.
With austerity cuts looming, the USDA hopes that increased fraud prevention efforts can offset some of the worst of the impending cuts. Food stamp fraud is already remarkably low, currently about 1 percent (one of the lowest of all federal programs).
The proposed changes would largely increase penalties and fines, allowing the USDA to penalize retailers participating in fraud (largely by authorizing the department to disqualify those retailers and levy fines proportionate to the amount of food stamp businesses the store does). In addition, the new proposals would require states to use federal databases to ensure that food benefits go to eligible Americans.
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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer