By Attorney General Alan Wilson
On January 2, 2015, the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office launched a special unit dedicated to prosecuting food stamp fraud. At the conclusion of its first year, we’ve seen major success in combatting this rapidly growing criminal enterprise in South Carolina.
In the last year, 99 cases have been pled, and $19,663.31 worth of restitution has been recovered. So far, the grand total of restitution ordered plus the amount recovered by our office is $337,392.47. And this is just the beginning.
Funding for this unit is provided by a $318,840 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a joint partnership between DSS and the Attorney General’s Office. As you can see, the amount recovered plus the restitution ordered exceeds the actual cost of the grant all within the first year. This is great news as it means that these criminals are being held accountable for their actions. It also shows how truly great this problem is in our state.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also commonly known as the food stamp program, helps those who are in need acquire essential items such as food. SNAP issues recipients a debit card, which is automatically credited with the qualifying benefit amount each month. Recipients use that card to buy unprepared food items such as milk, meat, bread, beans and rice to feed their families.
In South Carolina, 855,000 people receive these benefits. The program gives individuals assistance in order to get back on their feet. In a nation as great as ours, the goal is that individuals shouldn’t have to go without necessities simply because they have fallen on a difficult period of life.
Unfortunately, there are those who have discovered a way to abuse this system and steal from these recipients. The scheme is simple: an individual takes a SNAP card to a retailer, who charges a certain amount to it. The retailer then gives them half that amount in cash.
This is why the Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Social Services (DSS) have teamed up to fight food stamp fraud to make certain that individuals who are truly in need of assistance will no longer be robbed of the support they are entitled to. DSS investigators work to identify potential cases, which are then sent to the Attorney General’s Office for review and prosecution.
I’m pleased with the results we saw in this first year; however there is more work to be done. By working together to safeguard our tax dollars and stop waste through fraud, we can all help make South Carolina an even better place to live, work and raise a family.
If you know or suspect someone who is committing food stamp fraud, please report it by calling a special tip line at 1-800-616-1309.