State officials say fraud continues to plague the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, and that investigations into food stamp abuses will continue. But advocates for the poor are citing a recent study that they say supports their case that the program should be providing more assistance, not less.
When state Department of Health and Human Services fraud investigator Tom Roth looks at the recipients of Maine’s SNAP program, he sees two kinds of people: those genuinely in need of a helping hand and others who are simply gaming the system. And he says the stakes are getting higher.
“This year to date the fraud investigation and recovery unit investigators have presented 46 cases to the attorney general’s office totaling over $1 million dollars in theft allegations,” Roth says.
And that’s not all. Roth says his department has also assisted in other investigations that have revealed even more arrests on food stamp fraud charges.
“Additionally we presented 21 misdemeanor cases through local district attorney offices totaling more than $15,000,” Roth says. “We also aided one federal investigation and that subject was charged with the theft of $23,000 in state benefits.”
“I’m not suggesting that there’s absolutely no misuse in this program, in every program there’s is some misuse,” says Chris Hastedt at Maine Equal Justice Partners.
Hastedt says it’s not surprising that in a program as large as SNAP, some cases of abuse might be uncovered.
“Of course you would expect to see something like that in a program that spends $300 million in this state and serves over 100,000 families, but the overwhelming majority of families use this program for what it is intended to do and it helps them get enough to eat every day in a state where hunger is a real problem,” she says.
At a Bangor news conference called by Hastedt and Preble Street, a Portland organization that assists the poor, advocates called for an expansion of the food stamp program in Maine. Jan Bindas-Tenney, advocacy director at Preble Street, says that a recent UMaine study concluded that among Mainers who are receiving SNAP benefits, 63 percent are in households with children, 43 percent contain household members who are elderly or have a disability and 41 percent are working households.
Bindas-Tenney says those numbers don’t surprise her.
“At Preble Street we’re at the front lines of people experiencing hunger and we’ve seen hunger growing around us,” she says. “We were heartened to learn that a majority of people get enough food to eat, but we’re also troubled that many people are not getting the food they need each month and are forced to skip meals or are forced to delay paying bills.”
Advocates for the SNAP program say 2 of 3 recipients surveyed indicated that they were less healthy because they can’t afford nutritious food.
This story was originally published Oct. 4, 2017 at 5:43 p.m. ET.