Food stamp fraud bill passes NM House

GETTING TOUGH: A bill aimed at cracking down on food stamp and EBT fraud heads to the New Mexico Senate in the waning days of the legislative session.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE, N.M. – A bill that toughens penalties for people who try to trade food stamps and EBT cards for cash unanimously passed the New Mexico House of Representatives, and the bill’s sponsor hopes the measure can get through the Legislature before the 30-day legislative session ends Thursday.

The bill passed, 65-0, Saturday.

“You have instances where people were continually committing fraud and we couldn’t really aggregate those into a felony,” said Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque of House Bill 229. “That’s what this bill will do.”

Across the country reports have surfaced about people going on Craigslist and offering to sell food stamps, Women, Infants and Children checks or electronic benefit transfer cards for cash.

Here, a gas station attendant in Albuquerque was caught on tape by KOB-TV trading $200 in food stamps for $100 in cash.

In May, a couple from Farmington was arrested and charged with entering false transactions for food purchases using food stamps, then giving half the reimbursements to the holder of the food stamps.

“It’s really easy to sell (food stamps and EBT cards),” Youngblood said. “People stand outside grocery stores and actually offer them for half their value. I hear from teachers that kids are coming to school hungry, and that shouldn’t be the case in our state, especially with the amount of public assistance we have.”

HB229 would add gradations of severity so that convictions for cashing in on more than $500 in assistance programs would amount to a fourth-degree felony; more than $2,500 would equal a third-degree felony, and more than $20,000 would be a second-degree felony.

Youngblood’s bill sailed through two committees and the House floor without a dissenting vote. It heads to the Senate.

“I’m hoping to get it fast-tracked through the Senate,” Youngblood said.

Here’s an excerpt of our New Mexico Watchdog interview with Youngblood:

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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