DES MOINES, Iowa — The U.S. Department of Agriculture is sure the U.S. Department of Agriculture is doing a great job fighting fraud committed by people receiving benefits in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Wendy Dishman disagrees.
Dishman is the administrator of the Investigative Division of the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, which has been investigating fraud by SNAP recipients since the days when the program was known as the Food Stamp Program.
Dishman says the Food and Nutrition Service, the division of USDA that runs SNAP, doesn’t even have reliable data on the extent of fraud committed by recipients.
“There’s a lot of inconsistencies in the data they collect,” Dishman told Iowa Watchdog.
FNS investigates cases of SNAP fraud committed by vendors but leaves it to the states to investigate fraud by benefit recipients.
In 2013, DIA investigated 2,499 cases of potential fraud by SNAP recipients. In 1,749 of the cases, DIA discovered recipients either had provided incorrect information to the Iowa Department of Human Services, which administers SNAP benefits in the state, or had committed some form of deliberate fraud.
“If we can’t prove that it was an intentional violation, we turn the information over to DHS, so it can collect the overpayment,” Dishman said. “If we can prove it was intentional, there’s an administrative hearing process that will result in sanctions.”
In response to questions about its collection of data from the states about SNAP fraud, FNS provided Iowa Watchdog with a statement boasting about its success in reducing the percentage of people illegally selling their SNAP benefits. FNS claims that number has dropped from 4 percent of recipients to 1.3 percent during the past 15 years.
Asked about the 1.3 percent figure, Dishman said she doesn’t take it seriously.
“Everybody wonders where the hell they came up it,” she said with a little laugh. “Nobody can explain how they came up with that figure, because what we see is certainly more than that.”
Being sanctioned results in the individual losing SNAP benefits either permanently or for a period determined by an administrative judge. In particularly egregious cases, criminal prosecutions can occur.
But that’s rare. In 2013, 159 Iowa SNAP recipients lost their benefits because of fraud, but none were criminally prosecuted.
Originally appeared on Watchdog.org.