Congress Can Help Stop Out-of-State Food Stamp Fraud With This Reform
If you live in Vermont, you shouldn’t be on Utah’s food stamp program.
It’s common sense, but the incidences of individuals collecting out-of-state benefits are still too high. In a new paper for the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA), senior research fellow Paige Terryberry notes that millions of Americans change their state of residence every year, and food stamp enrollees frequently fail to report changes that affect their eligibility. Collecting benefits from a state in which you no longer reside, or even worse, collecting benefits in more than one state simultaneously, is fraud.
As Congress considers the Farm Bill, there is an opportunity to reform the food stamp program to restore program integrity by requiring individuals to report out-of-state moves within 10 days. Doing so would clamp down on fraud and preserve resources for the truly needy.
It’s not a small problem
According to the paper, in 2022, the food stamp program’s reported error rate was more than 11.5 percent, a 4.18 percentage point increase from 2019. But the true error rate is likely much higher as the food stamp program ignores payment errors valued below a certain threshold. A review by the Government Accountability Office found that nearly 40 percent of cases had payment errors, but most of these were excluded from the official reported error rate.
Realistically, the error rate may be even higher, as states have an incentive to lower their rates artificially. The U.S. Department of Agriculture pays states for having the lowest and most-improved error rates, so the data could be unnaturally low (looking at you, Virginia).
The proof is in the audits
State audits found an alarming trend of out-of-state food stamp fraud.
In Missouri, one woman received food stamp benefits in four states at the same time using her own name. She filed 71 food stamp applications and fraudulently received more than $20,000 in benefits over more than two years.
A Wisconsin audit identified Wisconsin-issued EBT cards used in all 50 states and each U.S. territory.
But wait—there’s more:
Farm Bill is an opportunity for reform, program integrity
In addition to cracking down on out-of-state food stamp fraud by requiring individuals to report out-of-state moves within 10 days, there are several other opportunities to strengthen the program to preserve resources for the truly needy. These opportunities include work requirements, closing loopholes, restricting retailer food stamp trafficking, requiring frequent cross-checks to weed out ineligible enrollees, and more.