According to a new report issued by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), $2.7 billion worth of improper food stamp payments were made in fiscal year (FY) 2012. That equals 3.8 percent of total food stamp benefit payouts for that year.

The rate of improper food stamp payments has generally decreased since FY 2005. While this may be good news, because food stamp spending increased dramatically over this period, the amount of improper payments also increased. In the past nine years, the federal government has spent a grand total of $15.6 billion on improper food stamp payments.

What can be done to prevent this? One answer is a meaningful work requirement. Able-bodied adults should be required to work, prepare for work, or look for work in exchange for receiving assistance.

There are many reasons food stamps should include a work requirement—first and foremost to encourage self-sufficiency—but it would also help cut down on fraud, because some recipients won’t report a new job or an increase in their earnings to the food stamp office in order to keep collecting benefits. It is difficult for an individual to be at a job search center and at an (unreported) job at the same time.

Currently, the food stamps program has no real work requirement. This means there is no way to determine between those who really need assistance and those who could otherwise work. It also means that able-bodied adult recipients are not being encouraged to work.

Senator Mike Lee (R–UT) recently introduced a welfare reform bill that includes a work requirement for able-bodied food stamp recipients. This would place food stamps on a foundation of self-sufficiency and better protect the food stamp program against fraud. Ultimately, it would place the food stamp program on a more prudent path, helping to assure that taxpayer dollars are going to those who need them most.

Kate Wakeman is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.