Economy

The Truth About Food Stamp Fraud

Critics have attacked food stamp services, like most federal financial welfare programs, arguing that the government is offering handouts to the poor without effective oversight to prevent fraud.

But the truth is that food stamp fraud is very rare.

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About 46.5 million Americans received food stamps in 2014 through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. On average, each SNAP recipient received about $123 per month.

There were about 640,000 investigations into SNAP fraud in 2014, a recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found. About 54 percent of those cases were ultimately dismissed because investigators were unable to turn up evidence of fraud.

That leaves us with one telling statistic:

Of the millions of SNAP recipients in America, fewer than 1 percent commit fraud.

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"The overwhelming majority of SNAP errors that do occur result from mistakes by recipients, eligibility workers, data entry clerks, or computer programmers, not dishonesty or fraud by recipients," CBPP vice president Stacy Dean said in testimony to a congressional subcommittee in June:

"In addition, states have reported that almost 60 percent of the dollar value of overpayments and almost 90 percent of the dollar value of underpayments were their fault, rather than recipients'. Much of the rest of overpayments resulted from innocent errors by households facing a program with complex rules."

Food stamp fraud has gradually decreased since the USDA replaced paper vouchers with electronic benefit cards in the late 1990s, The New York Times reported.

Even at the program's peak in the early 1990s, a little more than 4 percent of SNAP recipients were found to have committed fraud.

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What are the benefits of the federal government's food stamp program?

For the vast majority of SNAP recipients, the assistance program offers a means of affording an adequate diet for poor and extremely poor families.

The CBPP study determined that "SNAP kept 10.3 million people out of poverty in 2012."

A separate study by the National Poverty Center found "SNAP benefits as income cut the number of extremely poor households in 2011 by nearly half."