It’s not hard to qualify as an authorized Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) retailer. In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) website touts that eligible vendors can apply for the ability to accept SNAP benefits in as little as 15 minutes. As WJZ-TV reports, two store owners in Baltimore used their authorized SNAP retailer status to make some easy money by redeeming food stamp vouchers for cash.
The article reports that a Windsor Mill couple, who owned a food mart in Baltimore, pocketed more than $600,000 in payments for food sales that never occurred between November 2010 and May 2013. They exchanged SNAP vouchers for cash worth less than the face value of the benefits.
Authorized retailers must meet certain requirements before being allowed to accept SNAP benefits. Those conditions are laid out in a thorough training guide that explains what happens if a retailer doesn’t follow specified guidelines. One of those conditions is titled, “No Trafficking Is Allowed.” The section specifically states that it is illegal to exchange cash for SNAP benefits. Any refunds given must be made directly to the beneficiary’s Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, not disbursed in cash. (I suspect the store owners neglected to read the training manual, or just ignored it.)
The 50-year-old man and his 45-year-old wife both pleaded guilty to food stamp fraud.
SNAP is a multi-billion dollar program meant to benefit people who truly need assistance with putting food on the table. The training guide doesn’t mince words and makes it easy to understand that FNS is serious about enforcing SNAP laws and regulations and will aggressively pursue violators.
This couple of fraudsters faces being disqualified from the SNAP Program, a monetary penalty, a prison sentence and a potential fine of up to $11,000 for each illegal transaction plus three times the value of the transaction. Other penalties include the loss of the retailer’s state lottery and alcohol beverage sales licenses. The store owners took the easy route to riches by defrauding the government. They now face serving some hard time for their selfish acts.