Food Stamp Trafficking and the Crime of Being Poor
In Florida, the economic recession back in 2008 had a serious impact on the working citizens within the state. Jobs became less widely available and more and more of Florida’s poor had to turn to food stamps and other public benefits in order to survive. The most widely used federal program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (known as SNAP), provides food stamps, or vouchers for specific foods for the qualified poor.
Stringent Requirements of SNAP Lead to Fraud and Trafficking for Survival
SNAP has gone through considerable changes with the significant economic changes experienced in Florida and around the country. In 2008, during the economic crisis, Florida found that many of the most needy population were not qualified for the SNAP program due to a requirement that only those who work (or participate in job training) for 80 hours each month would be eligible to receive the benefit. The lack of job opportunities in the poorest of communities made it almost impossible for the neediest populations to satisfy the 80-hour requirement. A Florida waiver was permitted over the last few years where the poor could receive the benefit without putting in the requisite 80 hours in work or the job training. Last year, however, Florida legislature decided to forgo the waiver of the requirement and began to implement a sanctions program for those who were not satisfying the 80 hours of work or job training required to receive SNAP.
The Crime of Food Stamp Trafficking
Not only has the 80-hour requirement caused significant issues in the poorest communities, but the major controversy surrounding SNAP is the institutionalized determination of what qualifies as SNAP-approved food. Food stamps only cover certain types of food products and the use of the program does not permit significant amount of choice by the user. This has led to a common practice known as food stamp trafficking, where those who are users of the SNAP program exchange their benefits or their food items for cash with local businesses.
Florida Law on Food Stamp Trafficking
According to recent Florida law, food stamp trafficking is the exchange, stealing, or buying/selling of the food assistance benefits or the food items purchased with the food assistance benefit in order to receive money, cash, ammunition, firearms, or other type of consideration.
Food Stamp Trafficking in the Florida News
This practice of food stamp trafficking has made headlines recently in a recent bust by law enforcement of the Opa-Locka Hialeah Flea Market where kiosks at the flea market were suspected of being involved in the food stamp scheme. Not only were food assistance benefits being converted into cash without the purchase of approved food items, but more than 500 individuals had their information stolen in order to create illegal electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards. EBT cards are used like debit cards by those qualified individuals who are benefiting from the SNAP program. The investigation revealed that users of the EBT cards would use the EBT card to buy food items at an inflated cost and then only pay a portion of that cost. The store owner would then invoice to the government for reimbursement the full price of the receipt for the approved food items, even though the customer had paid less. The investigated scheme scammed the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) out of $13 million.
Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale
In Florida, it is illegal to sell food stamp benefits or food items bought with food stamp benefits for cash or other types of commodities. If you or a loved one has been arrested for food stamp trafficking, it is important to speak with an experienced defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik. Contact Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation in the Fort Lauderdale area.