Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Food Stamps

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Food-stamp recipients can use their taxpayer-funded benefit to order online from retailers like Amazon under a new Obama administration initiative that aims to facilitate the shopping experience for rural and urban residents. It marks the latest of many costly experiments by the administration to expand the fraud-infested program, which has seen a record-high number of beneficiaries under President Obama. To eliminate the welfare stigma, the administration renamed food stamps Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the rolls swelled to an astounding 46.5 million in 2016. This cost American taxpayers and eye-popping $70 billion, according to government figures.

It’s all part of the president’s longtime goal to eradicate what he and the First Lady call an epidemic of “food insecurity” among the nation’s low-income residents. Part of the problem is that this demographic has limited access to healthy food choices, the administration says, and the government must provide them with nutritional options. This is why taxpayers have been forced to dole out tens of millions of dollars to bring fruits and vegetables to the nation’s inner cities, coined “food deserts” by the administration because they lack healthy fare. The new online ordering program will help address this, according to the federal agency that runs the bloated food-stamp program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (USDA).

“Online purchasing is a potential lifeline for SNAP participants living in urban neighborhoods and rural communities where access to healthy food choices can be limited,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement announcing the new program this week. “We’re looking forward to being able to bring the benefits of the online market to low-income Americans participating in SNAP.” Besides Amazon, a few other online businesses have been approved by the feds to accept food stamps online, including Hy-Vee, Hart’s Local Grocers, Safeway and ShopRite. The USDA acknowledges however, that “online payment presents technical and security challenges that will need to be examined and fully addressed…”

It’s the last thing that an out-of-control government program, long plagued with fraud corruption, needs. Under the Obama expansion SNAP has suffered a multitude of serious problems. Back in 2012 a federal investigation uncovered evidence that food-stamp recipients were using the benefit to buy drugs, weapons and other contraband from unscrupulous vendors. A year later Judicial Watch broke a story, based on testimony and other evidence provided by a whistleblower, about the U.S. government knowingly giving illegal immigrants food stamps for decades. That was followed by another disturbing scheme in which SNAP benefits were being sold online using social media such as Facebook, Twitter and ecommerce websites like Craigslist and eBay.

Earlier this year federal authorities in south Florida busted the largest food-stamp fraud operation in U.S. history. Twenty-two defendants in the largely black and Hispanic areas of Miami-Dade County known as Opa-Locka and Hialeah swindled the government out of $13 million by fraudulently trading food stamps for cash. The crooked vendors operated food and produce stands at a local flea market as part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative to eradicate “food deserts,” common in poor, minority communities where fresh, healthy food is tough to find or often unavailable. The feds say the business owners and their employees let food-stamp recipients use their welfare benefit to get cash in exchange for a cut of the money. They swiped the recipient’s SNAP card for an inflated amount, doled out cash and kept a percentage. In most instances the recipient didn’t actually get food, according to federal authorities.

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food-stamps

According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the federal government spent $100 billion on food assistance programs last year to feed 110 million people.

Most of this total – $75 billion – was spent on food stamps issued to 46 million Americans in 2014 according to congressional testimony from the GAO’s Director of Education, Workforce, and Income Security Kay E. Brown.

The national school lunch program came in second at a cost of $11.3 billion with the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) at $7.1 billion. Puerto Rico received food assistance worth $1.9 billion.

Brown testified that “inefficient use of federal funds” may exist due to the government’s “complex network of 18 food assistance programs, administered by three federal agencies” rendering these agencies unable to determine how effective the programs are. Brown continued:

“In 2010, research GAO reviewed suggested that participation in seven of these programs was associated with positive outcomes, such as improving nutrition among low-income households”…but that “Little was known about the effectiveness of the remaining 11.”

The GAO report referred to in Brown’s testimony included a list of the 18 federal programs which, taken together, served a total 109.9 million Americans in 2014. The effectiveness of the 18 programs as a whole could not be determined since there is no mechanism in place to identify and track individuals participating in multiple nutrition assistance programs.

Brown said the GAO has urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to address potential overlaps in their programs – an effort undertaken by the USDA in 2013 “to study the impact of participation in multiple food assistance programs on the nutritional status of participants.”

“While such a study will provide important information, it does not address GAO’s recommendation,” Brown said. “GAO continues to believe that further action is needed.”

One outcome parameter missing from the GAO report was the effect that Food Stamps and other “nutrition assistance” programs are having on the motivation by beneficiaries to finds jobs and stay employed.

There is an old axiom in the theory and practice of government assistance programs that states if you subsidize something, you get more of it.

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Food Stamp Fraud

You would think a program like Food Stamps would be used by needy Americans to get the nutritional assistance that they need but you would be wrong – and there are many reasons why.

For starters, you need to know that the cost of federal food assistance programs have been rising in cost steadily for the last half-century. Beginning with a pilot program in 1961, Food Stamps were originally designed to distribute surplus or otherwise unmarketable food to the poor.

Based on the “success” this program, Congress passed Food Stamp Act of 1964 – letting it go national in 1974 and finally funding it through the Food Stamp Act of 1977. It was never meant to be an entitlement… never meant to benefit anyone other than poor American citizens… and never meant to be a way of life.

In the ensuing decades, all of this has fallen by the wayside.

The government currently spends over $110 billion a year on food assistance programs, and they’re continually attempting to get more people on board the government program.

In 2008, 28.2 million Americans were on food stamps. In the first five years of the Obama Administration, 19.4 million people have been added to the program. Today, 47 million Americans are on food stamps – particularly through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Then, to take the social stigma out of using food stamps, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) worked with states to begin paying benefits through an electronic ATM type card (called EBT, Electronic Benefits Card) accepted at most grocery stores to buy healthy foods such as bread, cereal, fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products.

And while the USDA says items such as hot food, pet food, soap, household supplies, beer, cigarettes and wine are strictly forbidden, the SNAP program has no way of enforcing these rules. Because of this, the “rules” are more like soft guidelines, and that might explain the massive increase in welfare recipients in the past few years.

Nine Things You Didn’t Know You Could Buy With Food Stamps

Here are nine questionable items that you can (or will soon be able to) purchase with a SNAP ATM card.

  1. Fast Food: Taco Bell, KFC and other fast food restaurants are just two of many fast food restaurants that accept SNAP EBT cards.
  2. Bail: Convicted felons have reportedly used their EBT as bail money. The incarcerated instructs someone to go to an ATM to withdraw money from their EBT for bail.
  3. Lingerie: One adult store, Kiss My Lingerie in Gonzales, Louisiana, accepts EBT. Other adult stores are also been known to accept welfare transactions.
  4. Shoes: Payless Shoes also accept EBT.
  5. Strip clubs: In 2013, the New York Post reported that Freedom of Information Act documents (FOIA) revealed welfare recipients were regularly making EBT withdrawals at the ATMs near and inside infamous porn shops, liquor stores, lounges and hookah parlors.
  6. Starbucks: While corporate stores don’t accept EBT, any gourmet coffee shops like Starbucks in a Target or grocery chain is considered a grocery item.
  7. Cold hard cash: Some people sell their SNAP EBT benefits cards for cash using websites like Craigslist to find buyers.
  8. Cupcakes/Gourmet cakes: It is considered food, no matter the price.
  9. Coming Soon? Pot: Colorado became the first state to legalize the use of recreational marijuana. The may also become the first state to have taxpayer funded pot smoking. A Colorado Pot Shop called Rite Greens has already taken the steps to officially accept SNAP EBT cards.

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