It's Still Not That Hard to Defraud the Food Stamp Program

Flickr user NatalieMaynor

Detection of improper receipt or trafficking of federal food subsidies being performed by state governments has been hindered by inconsistent data and staff cuts, an audit found.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, run by the states under guidance from the Agriculture Department’s Food and Nutrition Service, has long been at risk of fraud in the form of improper requests for replacement electronic benefit cards and account access by prisoners or thieves using the names of deceased individuals.

The study of fraud policing in 11 states released Thursday by the Government Accountability Office faulted state oversight of such tools as fraud hotlines and data matching. “Most of selected states reported difficulties in conducting fraud investigations due to either reduced or maintained staff levels while SNAP recipient numbers greatly increased from fiscal year 2009 through 2013,” said the study, requested by Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., ranking member of the Budget Committee.

The states are achieving “mixed success,” GAO found, with potential for illicit trafficking in 73 percent of the households that requested excessive replacement SNAP benefit cards. 

. “Some state officials suggested changing the financial incentives structure to help support the costs of investigating potential SNAP fraud,” auditors noted. “For example, investigative agencies are not rewarded for cost-effective, anti-fraud efforts which prevent ineligible people from receiving benefits at all.”

The Food and Nutrition Service’s recommended e-commerce website monitoring tool, according to the auditors, is “less effective than manual searches in detecting posts indicative of SNAP trafficking. GAO found the recommended tool for monitoring social media to be impractical due to the volume of irrelevant data.”

Despite enhanced federal oversight in recent years, the report said, states still lack clear and consistent data in such areas as what constitutes a fraud investigation, the report concluded.

GAO recommended that the Food and Nutrition Service reassess financial incentives and detection tools and issue guidance to help states. Agency officials agreed. Some mentioned that while many requests for replacement food stamp cards are legitimate and hence do not merit fraud investigators’ time, “monitoring of replacement card data has an important educational component, as it allows states to identify situations where a recipient requires education on how to use their SNAP” electronic card. 

Clarification: This story has been clarified as to where the potential for illicit trafficking is. 

(Image via Flickr user NatalieMaynor)

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.