1,700 Mississippians kicked out of benefit program

JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - It's supposed to be used for food. But if you ask David Noble with the Department of Human Services, too much of it is being used for fraud.

"Those benefits are supposed to be used to provide food for the households for that particular month," said Noble.

Those benefits are federal funds from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP. A big issue is when folks don't report their income when applying for the benefits. Another problem is when those benefits are sold off.

"If I were to sell you a card with $100 on it, for $50, I now have $50 in cash that I can do whatever I want to with. If I would have kept that card, all I can do is buy groceries with that $100," said Noble.

Too often, Noble says, the seller then reports the card lost or stolen and requests a replacement. Only then can the sold card be deactivated. The fraud can leave children with no food and the cycle stands to be repeated.

During the last budget year, the state has been tracking those requesting a replacement card to pin down potential fraud. During that time, 263 households reported missing cards five or more times. In one case, a cardholder requested a replacement card 17 times.

"We have no way of knowing why they're asking for a replacement card," said Noble. "We're doing the best we can as far as our own restrictions by alerting the household that this is something that is monitored and that can be investigated."

With the tracking last budget year, 1,700 people are now disqualified from receiving benefits because of fraudulent claims or misuse. It all adds up to more than $2.7 million which they have to repay. With almost 25 percent of the state's population enrolled in the SNAP program, Noble said fraud is a nationwide issue. While the numbers may seem high, Noble said fraud has actually decreased over the last few years.

"It's a situation where there are program rules, and they're not following the program rules," said Noble.

The program operates on a "three strikes and you're out for good" type system. The first offense put someone out of the program for a year. A second offense is two years, and the third is permanently.

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