Food stamps have evolved into swipe cards — EBT in the parlance of the government bureaucracy — that electronically dole out benefits. The cards protect against fraud but are not perfect.
They are similar to debit cards and smart cards, except that the taxpayer and not the user provides the money.
Food stamp recipients are supposed to use their EBT cards only to buy food. However, since the cards are replaced if lost or stolen, it does not take a PhD from MIT to figure out that one can sell the card for 50 cents on the dollar, get a new card from the government and not skip a meal.
Plenty of people do so. Some are brazen enough to auction off or sell their cards through Internet services such as eBay and Craigslist. The federal government estimates that such fraud costs taxpayers $750 million a year, which is roughly 1 percent of the $75 billion annual program.
The federal Department of Agriculture, which administers the program, has proposed making it easier for states to track those who may be bilking the system.
Under its new rules, states would be able to require a formal explanation as to why a card was lost or stolen. States would be allowed to deny further cards to those who failed to comply.
While that may sound like a no-brainer, plastic cards are easy to lose. Caseworkers can’t lose sight of who stands to suffer — children, possibly — when they take a hard line.
More effective should be the letters federal agents sent to officials of eBay and Craigslist, telling them to crack down on the sale of EBT cards via their websites. Allowing their services to be used for this sort of welfare fraud is comparable to a pawn shop fencing stolen goods.
No system is perfect. The real problem is not the fraud but the fact that so many Americans — 45 million at last count — rely on government assistance to eat.
—Charleston Daily Mail