Fraud and Hunger

Published 11/06/2019
Being hungry and poor in America isn’t a crime. For many Americans it’s a fact of life. According to Feeding America, 37 million people in the U.S. struggle with hunger, which, not in coincidently, is the same number of people living in poverty. In 2019, most families living in poverty earn less than $25, 759 per year.
The term “food insecurity” is often used in regards to these families, and is “described as household’s inability to provide enough food for every person to live an active, healthy life. Food insecurity is one way we can measure and assess the risk of hunger. In the United States currently, 1 in 9 people struggle with hunger”.
More than half (56%) of food-insecure households participated in at least one of the major federal food assistance program — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly Food Stamps); the National School Lunch Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (often called WIC).
There was a recent “Target 12” story, published October 30, with the headline “”RI lists some food stamp users’ income as $1” per week. On the face of it, this seems ridiculous, and of course, it is. However, the reason for this apparent deception is complicated.
State workers have been using the $1 per week figure as a “place-holder”, to allow those in need to get a spot in the queue so their benefits will not be held up while they produce the necessary paperwork.
This sounds reasonable, but as is often the case, there are people who abuse the system by applying for benefits, getting in the line, and then receiving benefits without ever providing the necessary documentation. Once the benefits and/or money is distributed, there is no effective way to get it back. So, once again, valuable resources are not delivered to those in real need because others are gaming the system.
Besides the dollar per week place-holder issue, Target 12 reported that “The feds flagged a slew additional problems within the system:
  • DHS is not in compliance with federal records retention requirements
  • Notice of Eligibility does not conform to Federal regulations
  • Failure to follow appropriate interview procedure at recertification
  • Potential intentional program violation cases are not being referred to the Fraud Unit
The Feds noted several issues that have been successfully corrected or issues that were identified, but could not be validated.
Target 12 also reported that “The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services levied a $2 million dollar fine against the state for food stamp errors, a majority of which were overpayments of benefits”.  More of the state’s limited resources gone to waste.
In September 0f 2016, UNIP (Unified Health Infrastructure Project) was initiated by the state with the goal of streamlining benefits, including Medicaid, food stamps, and child care assistance. Although the program was touted as a panacea for previous problems and was supposed to pay for itself in two years through the elimination of waste and fraud, this has not been the case. It is now estimated to cost the taxpayers $656 million over 10 years. 
Naturally, everyone is keen to end hunger and food insecurity. However, without the proper, proven tools, the problem will consist, and those looking to take advantage of a broken and over-loaded system will have amply opportunity to do so.