August 2, 2014

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Ohio partners with feds to target food stamp fraud

DAYTON — The state is partnering with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to crack down on fraud in the federal food stamp program.

The state and the federal agency will share information about their transactions, and the USDA will provide training and data-mining assistance to identify suspicious patterns of benefit redemption that could indicate illegal activities, according to the Dayton Daily News. The partnership was announced Tuesday.

The USDA estimates that 1 percent of food stamp benefits are misappropriated because of fraud. The program distributed $74.6 billion in fiscal year 2012 — that means about $746 million was lost to fraud. Federal estimates show that Ohio might be home to $30 million in fraudulent food stamp use.

Kevin Concannon, the USDA undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services, said the partnerships “will give the states and the federal government both the opportunity to share these electronic data systems, and we think we can help each other in that regard.”

The USDA is in charge of investigating food stamp fraud by retailers and vendors. The state and county agencies are in charge of investigating fraud among residents who receive food benefits.

“It’s one thing to take the stores or the store owners out of the program, but there have to be consequences too for the individual households that may have trafficked benefits in those stores,” Concannon said.

A common form of fraud involves people illegally selling or trading their benefit cards to friends, store clerks, drug dealers or others for cash, drugs or other non-food items.

The USDA announced last May that it was giving states the ability to contact households that requested multiple replacement benefit cards to determine whether the requests were legitimate or suspicious and required more probing.

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services said that more than 1.8 million people in the state receive an average of $135 in food stamps each month to help supplement their meals. Those with household incomes up to 130 percent of the federal poverty — up to $35,325 for a family of four — qualify for assistance.

The USDA signed similar data-sharing agreements with Maryland and Virginia last month.