Agriculture IG report: Banned retailers redeemed more than $65 million in 2012

While we wait for Congress to return and make some moves on what will surely continue to be the contentious battle over the to-be-determined budget for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — Republicans have dared to propose an oh-so-draconian 5 percent cut to the program (whose budget has more than doubled since 2008 alone!) as well as to institute further fraud controls, and Democrats are vehemently not partial to their plan — here’s another rather largish example of all of the waste, fraud, and abuse of the program about which those dastardly and unfeeling Republicans are always raving. The WFB picked it up:

Retailers who have been banned by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) for food stamp trafficking are still redeeming more than $65 million in benefits from the program, a new report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector general (IG) found. …

“The Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) does not have clear procedures and guidance to carry out key oversight and enforcement activities to address SNAP retailer fraud, or adequate authority to prevent multiple instances of fraud—either by a particular owner or within a particular location,” the Aug. 20 audit report states.

“As a result, the integrity of SNAP is at risk because FNS does not consistently provide deterrents for trafficking,” the IG said. SNAP “trafficking” means exchanging food stamp benefits for cash. …

The audit found that the “FNS currently allows 585 multi-unit retail store owners to continue redeeming SNAP benefits at other locations after being permanently disqualified for trafficking in one location.”

As a result, the banned retailers redeemed $65.3 million in benefits in fiscal year 2012.

The FNS disputes that the banned retailers are necessarily committing fraud, or something, but the report makes a number of recommendations for procedures that the agency can and should start instituting to control what is clearly widespread shady behavior and improper use of the program. While Republicans will likely (and rightly) point to this report as a piece of evidence for how American tax dollars are going to a program rife with fraud and waste, Democrats’ immediate rejoinder tends to run somewhere along the lines of criticizing Republicans for their disproportionate focus on fraud and insisting that the vast majority of the food stamp budget goes to helping needy families who would otherwise have trouble making ends meet. I.e., expect the easily marketable but intellectually cheap and false moral choice between more food stamps or more hunger to even more fiercely rear its ugly head when Congress returns. Republicans do have a vision for a robust and inclusive economy in which employment and entrepreneurial opportunities are so widely available and attractive that Americans neither want nor need the government to keep increasing its welfare spending — and deficit-spending our way into oblivion isn’t a part of it.