Watchdog Says 66,000 People Kept Getting Food Stamps Despite Winning Big in Lottery

Tom Ozimek
By Tom Ozimek
October 22, 2023US News
Watchdog Says 66,000 People Kept Getting Food Stamps Despite Winning Big in Lottery
A sign alerting customers about SNAP food stamps benefits is displayed at a Brooklyn grocery store in New York on Dec. 5, 2019. (Scott Heins/Getty Images)

A watchdog has revealed that over 66,000 people stayed on food stamp rolls despite winning enough money in lotteries to make them ineligible—and that’s just based on data obtained in just 13 states—with the figure for all 50 states “likely in the hundreds of thousands.”

The Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to all 50 states, seeking information on the number of people in the food stamp program since 2019 who won big in the lottery, according to Hayden Dublois, data and analytics director at FGA.

“We aren’t talking about the proud owners of $20 prizes from scratchers. We’re talking about those who won at least $4,250, which, under federal law, makes a person ineligible for the taxpayer’s help,” Mr. Dublois said in an Oct. 20 op-ed for Fox News.

He said that, through a combination of state negligence and federal loopholes, over 66,000 substantial lottery winners continued to receive food stamps in the 13 states for which the FOIA request yielded survey data.

“Across all 50 states, the number is likely in the hundreds of thousands,” Mr. Dublois said, with the stark figures being the latest sign of persistent food stamp program abuse that FGA has been sounding the alarm on for a long time.

“Congress should get lottery winners off this low-income program when passing the Farm Bill later this fall,” Mr. Dublois added.

The Farm Bill package, which is passed every five years, determines policy around various programs, including the food stamp system.

Some Republicans have sought to reform the food stamp system to avoid abuse. Rep. Ben Cline (R-Va.) introduced a bill earlier this year called the No Welfare for the Wealthy Act, which seeks to set more stringent asset and income thresholds for people to qualify for food stamps.

The measure would end broad-based categorical eligibility (BBCE) for the food stamp program, which the FGA says is a loophole that lets states ignore income and asset thresholds to expand eligibility to wealthier people who normally would not qualify.

Food stamp reform is a contentious issue on Capitol Hill.

House Agriculture Committee ranking member David Scott (D-Ga.) led committee Democrats in a letter to then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), expressing concern about the upcoming farm bill’s allowances for the food stamp system, which they described as “the nation’s most effective anti-hunger program.”

Loophole In Focus

In the past several decades, food stamp enrollment has skyrocketed.

In 2000, there were 17 million people on the rolls, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. By 2023, that number had swelled to 42.4 million.

The cost to taxpayers has, over the same time period, soared by nearly 600 percent, according to an August review by FGA.

Part of the problem, according to FGA, is that 41 states and Washington DC ignore the federal income and asset limits, letting millions of ineligible enrollees to keep getting food stamp benefits while opening the system to waste, fraud, and abuse.

Roughly 5.4 million food stamp recipients who enrolled through BBCE don’t meet eligibility requirements because states have used federal loopholes to overlook eligibility criteria, according to FGA.

Households that managed to qualify under BBCE were nearly three times as likely to have payment errors than other households, according to the FGA study.

“With it being a Farm Bill year, Congress has an opportunity to close this loophole for good,” FGA wrote in a note. “Eliminating the BBCE loophole could save taxpayers an astounding $112 billion over the next decade and help restore program integrity.”

The food stamp program is losing roughly $1 billion per month because of fraud and errors, according to Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who in late September introduced legislation aimed at reducing the tidal wave of money being lost from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is the official name of the food stamp program.

Knows as the “Snap Back Inaccurate SNAP Payments Act,” her legislation would slash spending by nearly $1 billion a month by ensuring that all errors—regardless of the amount—be counted.

The measure would also hold states accountable for payment errors and direct state governments to stop giving benefits to people who are ineligible.

Food Stamp Expansion Blamed for 15 Percent Rise in Grocery Prices

An earlier FGA study blames increased food stamp spending—including a massive expansion of the program under President Joe Biden—for contributing to soaring grocery prices.

In 2021, under the Biden administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced updated nutritional guidelines for federal food stamp benefits. These changes led to an approximate 27 percent expansion of the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP) compared to its pre-pandemic scale.

Recent research conducted by the FGA estimates that, between December 2019 and March 2023, per-capita food stamp spending grew by over 90 percent.

This increased food stamp spending has, in turn, led to a whopping 15 percent (at minimum) jump in grocery prices, per the FGA report.

“Grocery prices have risen by at least 15 percent due to increases in food stamp spending,” FGA wrote in the report, which estimated that repealing President Biden’s 2021 food stamp expansion could save taxpayers over $190 billion over the next decade.

Republicans have been pushing to curb food stamp spending, while Democrats have urged them not to do so.

Neither the White House nor the USDA responded to a request for comment on the FGA’s findings linking food stamp spending to grocery inflation.

However, the White House recently issued a note authored by the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) about grocery inflation in the nation in recent years.

The note blamed a variety of factors for “higher than normal” grocery inflation, including “pandemic-induced shifts in food demand from restaurants to groceries, global supply chain bottlenecks, and unforeseen supply shocks like avian flu, the war in Ukraine, and poor weather.”

The CEA did not mention food stamp policies as a factor helping fuel inflation.

From The Epoch Times

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