Food stamps: People abusing taxpayer dollars

Alexandra Carter
News

POSTED: Monday, April 28, 2014 - 10:15pm

UPDATED: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 3:37pm

The number of Americans depending on food stamps to feed themselves and their families is at an all time high in the United States; around 47 million Americans use the federal program known as SNAP. The program recently came under fire after a high profile case of food stamp fraud made national headlines.  

He's known as "The Food Stamp Surfer": Californian Jason Greenslate recently caused national outrage when Fox News exposed him for using tax payer dollars to buy lobster, sushi and alcohol with his food stamp card.

So KETK set out to uncover if this kind of abuse is happening in East Texas.

The federal government spends $400 million dollars per month on Texas food benefits or SNAP which stands for  "Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program."

The average SNAP household of three receives $278 per month. In order to receive this monthly stipend from the government, an applicant's household income must fall 130 percent below the poverty line. 

Lisa Simmons works at a food bank in Longview. She knows first-hand know hard it is to regulate the SNAP system.

"There could be some better regulations based on who receives the food stamps and how they go about purchasing the food items."

A 2013 SNAP fraud investigation revealed that in Gregg, Rusk and Smith counties alone, food stamp abuse totaled over $101,000.

Linda Edwards Gockel works for the state SNAP office.

"It's always bad news if somebody is taking advantage of the system because fist of all it's dishonest activity. It harms the program..for people who need these benefits legitimately and of course it's a waste of tax payer dollars."

As we mentioned, the "N" in SNAP stands for nutritious. The SNAP program is meant to provide nutritious food to families who cannot afford it. Banned items include: beer, liquor, tobacco, ice cream, soda, candy, seafood and steak.

Gockel says Texas the regulations here in Texas are among the toughest in the nation.

" The state of Texas tries very hard to put very rigorous requirements in place. We don't allow a lot of things that other states do." 

Larger grocery stores in the state of Texas like Kroger, Super One Foods and Wal-Mart have automated systems in place that won't allow items like beer, junk food, and cigarettes to be purchased using a SNAP card. But, at smaller convenience stores we spoke with several managers that said since the SNAP card looks so much like a debit card, it's almost impossible to regulate..and that's how we found some East Texans were cheating the system."

We spoke with several East Texas residents anonymously who admitted to using their SNAP cards to buy potato chips, ice cream, even beer and cigarettes.

When we asked them how they got away with it they replied by simply swiping the card.

Simmons says the abuse is disheartening.

"It's a food stamp card, it should be used for food purposes..not as a credit card." 

State Representative David Simpson says food stamp regulations are a problem he's been working on for years.

"It is very hard to regulate..and we're asking store owners to be enforcers..and there's always a workaround for smart people.." 

Simpson says government handouts like the SNAP program encourage too much reliance on the government and don't encourage two important American liberties: independence and freedom.

 "We're encouraging irresponsibility and abuse..and it's hurting the people who really need programs like this."

Simpson says the solution lies in the hands of the community, not Uncle Sam.

 "We're looking to the government as the savior of all our ills..whereas our neighbor..and churches are doing a good work."

First time offenders of SNAP card abuse can face criminal prosecution and they can lose their SNAP benefits for up to one year. Repeat offenders can have their benefits revoked forever. 

Comments News Comments

@JesseJames- if you saw business owners selling non-approved items why didn't you do the right thing & turn them in?
For the rest of your claims I find them highly doubtful.
Pres Obama is Decreased the deficit by $100M in 2013 & expects to decrease it by $400M in 2014.
Bush on the other hand ran up $8Trillion in 4 years fighting terrorists with the USA's credit card.
Yup, tax cuts for the wealthy while increasing the debt & making gov't bigger.
GOP says one thing & does another.
USA Strong!

the teacher failed economics obviously, as well as nutrition. Hope her students are smarter. Quit making more laws. Make the ones already in place work. Don't point at who to blame. lone star card violations should be one strike your out period. Also convenience stores have been breaking this law since food stamps were introduced. Start by looking there for violations.

Believe it or not when I was living in one of our fine Texas cities right on the border I have seen foodstamps used to buy crack cocaine, to pay prostitutes etc. I knew one guy that bought an old car with foodstamps. The train riders who spend their time criss-crossing the country on the freight trains generally stop in at least two or three states and pick up their benefits including foodstamps. All they do is use stolen ID's . Meanwhile some kids go hungry.

What about BO and GANG, aren't they abusing Taxpayer dollars in the Millions and Billions with BO in the Trillions!

Isn't BO abusing taxpayer dollars?

Who are the real welfare recipients?
Google Walmart, McDonalds.
Look @ Corporate welfare same names as above plus many other such as Texas' EXXONMobil.
These are direct TAX CREDITS.
TAX CREDITS in addition to TAX LOOPHOLES!
These Credits & Loopholes are written by their LOBBYISTS, Tax Specialists & Lawyers.
Lobbyists even write Favorable LEGISLATION to make sure the politician they're paying off don't screw up their FREE MEAL.
Who is really costing the American Taxpayer more?
CORPORATE WELFARE!

Who are these people who get hundreds of dollars in food stamps? Because I would love to meet them and exchange recipes. Oh, and tips to get that much money. I am on disability because I am barely able to walk thanks to severe MS, and once I was able to get on SNAP they gave me one hundred ten dollars a month for food. Food, and food only, which is the only thing you can buy with an EBT. Bless the person who thought up coupons, because that helps me get as much food as I can despite high prices

When we lived on the border for a year. The first of every month, we saw thousands of people who live in Mexico, come across the border to get their food stamps and aid money. they would buy whatever... steaks, beer, TVs, stereos, video games, etc, leave all the packaging and boxes in store parking lots, then go back to Mexico. It was like clockwork every month. We are not only supporting those living here, but those living in Mexico. They just apply for aid and use "Uncle Bart's" address here.

X teacher wants to make more rules.
FYI the ones we have aren't being followed!
"no meat over $3/lb" is your rule.
Well, my friend you're eating PROCESSED meats which is the most UNHEALTHY food group.
So, you broke your own rule about healthy eating with beans and all.
It backs up what people are saying about how difficult it is to BUY food on the money given let alone healthy food.
Hope you're a quality teacher & don't pass along misinformation to your students
Poor quality teachers are leeches

If it is, it is because the BUSINESS is allowing it, which should be turned in but more than likely the people you see do this is the ones receiving TANF. I don't think there is anything wrong with buying potato chips to go with our sandwiches, or purchasing a bag of candy for our family. Just because California does it, doesn't mean everyone does. Live off of 920.00 for one month, I dare you to take the challenge. Judgmental people, corrupt government, no Christ in folks lives! Love,love,love.

I get disability of 720 & my son gets a supplement of 60. I get 140 in food stamps. I don't sell them as I need what I get plus. The SNAP program may allow expensive foods but I don't buy them because my food has to last. Some people also get TANF which is the monetary part where they get cash but we don't get that as it is for adults with no child support & no income. I don't get it because I have disability. Beer, cigs, & gas are NOT allowed to be purchased with FS! If someone is doing that it

Lone-star Card will buy any meat even lobster and seafood at specialty stores, candy, chips, sodas, etc. We need to control these sales. No meat that cost more than $3.00 a pound should be allowed. That is my own rule for my purchases. Beans and rice or any grain product combined with beans makes a complete protein! That is just as healthy as a T-bone steak! The abuse is rampant! We need strict regulations along with some shopping lists, menu ideas, etc. to help the homemaker shop wisely.

I'm not suprised at the group jumping on the bandwagon. If people in this country do not see the bigotry fueling the "outrage" at Obama they are not truly looking for the truth. Everything from this alleged abuse of the system to problems that arise from the administrations attempts to right the wrongs of the previous 8yrs get blown out of proportion by the extreme right. Tell the truth KETK or get out of the news business.

WHAT MAKES ME SICK, I WAS BEHIND A WOMAN IN WALMART ONE NIGHT, AND SHE WAS TRYING TO BUY KRAFTS DELI CHEESE THE EXPENSIVE KIND, AND THAT CARD SHE PUT IN TURNED HER DOWN ON THAT CHEESE, AND WHAT REALLY DID IT FOR ME.. SHE WAS DRESSED A LOT BETTER THAN ME HIGHER DOLLAR CLOTHES ON THAN ME.. IT JUST MAKES YOU SICK. AND WHAT REALLY BURNS ME UP, THE WOMEN GET PREGNANT BY THESE MEN AND ARE TOO LAZY TO USE BIRTH CONTROL AND THEY LIE TO HUMAN RESOURCE ABOUT NOT KNOWING WHERE THE BABY DADDYAND HE IS THERE

Food stamps are part of the farm subsidy bill. The money put into them goes directly to the people participating in the program, who can afford to buy a better selection of groceries from farmers, who can afford to keep our food surplus going.

Famines have happened before in the US, they most likely will happen again. I would say with confidence that the farming bill in general is more important for our national security than anything else the military has ever shoveled its money into.

Alexandra Carter -
The average SNAP household of three receives $278 per month. In order to receive this monthly stipend from the government, an applicant's household income must fall 130 percent below the poverty line.
WHAT EXACTLY DOES THAT MEAN? I DO NOT KNOW - AND APPARENTLY MANY OTHERS DON'T EITHER!

Taxpayers subsidize Wal-mart, McDonald's,BK,etc because they pay their "associates" low wages & PT hours.
They are called the "working poor."
= 130% below of the Fed poverty level.
They use SNAP, subsidized housing/utilities, food banks, Medicaid, etc.
Corps above pay white collar execs HUGE pay, bonuses & perks because they are smart enough to game the system.
Congress is bought by Corps & allows it.
Y'all believe this ketk crap and dump on the poor.
STOP CORPORATE WELFARE & White Collar Crime!

Some of you folks have never had a rough day in your lives. I can tell by the comments :)

I have had a lot of ruff days in my life, my mother and I growing up lived on 17.00 a week back then, my dad never paid child support. not one dime.... I was divorced for years and I worked 2 and 3 jobs and I never took a dime from a program. these people nowdays are lazy and all they do is have welware babies. the women lie and say they do not know where the dads are and those men are living right there in that house with them. and that woman is drawing all that money and all those food stamps

"In order to receive this monthly stipend from the government, an applicant's household income must fall 130 percent below the poverty line."

How is that possible?

it happens when the person who was working and paying all the bills loses her job, then falls and breaks her dominant right are nuts bolts plates the works still hurts and doesn't feel right and the only money coming in is a 710 social security check of a Vietnam veternan who has been denied any kind of
disability even though he can hardly walk to much bad at the wrong time
by the way I buy milk bread sugar flour cornmeal beans sometimes porkchops with my food stamps
I am glad I could get them.

It's possible when your monthly income is $767 and you are trying to house and feed a family of 4. I have applied for food stamps to help me feed my family and I was approved for $5 a month, yet when the non residents apply, they get hundreds and hundreds of dollars in SNAP benefits and their income is 2-3 times what mine is.

Food Stamps are prorated between American Citizens and illegal aliens in household, income is prorated also between those listed above, so if you have 6 people, 3 of those are American Citizens and three are illegal aliens, this would result in half the income being counted for American Citizens and half not being counted for illegal aliens. Often this results in much less income being counted than not counted

It's possible when your monthly income is $767 and you are trying to house and feed a family of 4. I have applied for food stamps to help me feed my family and I was approved for $5 a month, yet when the non residents apply, they get hundreds and hundreds of dollars in SNAP benefits and their income is 2-3 times what mine is.

live in poverty and find out!!!!!!

KETK really botched this story. They spent a week on promos that made it look like people are buying beer with SNAP.

KETK botched it only in that they didn't show the whole truth. The SNAP entitlement mentality of so many receiving SNAP. I have seen children, as young as 6, pushing her way to the front of the line to buy an armful of candy, chips and a soda, and paid for it all with the Lone Star card.
I have to watch every dime, yet the person in front of me in line buys only brand name, prepared meals, decorated cakes and just swipes the card then piles all in the trunk of their luxury car.

Lots of misinformation in these comments.
A family of 3 does NOT get $650/mo & sell 1/2 for 50 cents on the dollar.
Business owners can accept EBT because they AGREE to ENFORCE the program.
They signed a legal doc & if they don't & they're caught they're kicked off the program.
Why do people have to come up with outrageous lies?
Aren't you as evil as the people at whom you point your judgmental finger?
We're supposed to be a Christian nation.
This is the "Bible Belt".
Respect yourself & others.

SNAP Fraud is probably more widespread than reported. It could be substantially reduced if they changed the swipe and punch in numbers game to a card with photo and require a signature. This would also eliminate DHHS employees from having SNAP cards.

THATS A LIE, YOU CAN"T USE EBT CARDS FOR BEER & CIG'S OR DELI MEAT, I TRIED TOO.

What about those who seek out customers who are paying with cash and offer to use their card to receive the cash. This happens often and needs to stop. Don't give people a "credit card" as it will only lead them to do things they shouldn't. Plus make those who are supposedly "seeking a job" while on unemployment and make them find a "real job". There are some who need another there to hold their hand during the process. If people really wanted to find a job, they would have one.

The LoneStar cards serve several entities, and several cash benefits are paid to this card instead of mailing out a check. When you see someone "get cash" they are using those benefits. Most cashiers do not know this and mistakenly think people are getting cash from SNAP, but they are not. Everyone on SNAP that are not working 30 hour weeks MUST actually clock in at the Texas WorkForce for 30 hours every week, to search for jobs and meet with job search counselor. Failure terminates them.

I see them buying sodas,candy etc on a daily basis using SNAP. The regulations are NOT being enforced, my daughter works in fast food and they accept SNAP <-----hello??? Fast food?? Nutritious?? I thought Mrs Obama was so concerned abt our kids school lunches yet SNAP allows kids to be fed fast food?! If WIC can be nutritional foods only so can SNAP, food stamps are to keep you from starving NOT feed you your favorite meal.

http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/eligible-food-items

KETK FAILED to fact check their reporter. This story is more about bias than facts.

You are lying! The snap card does not allow those items and only pays for the allowed food items. The benefits are only applied to eligible items and the customer has to pay the cash total that includes any disallowed items. Just because beer is in their buggy does not mean that SNAP is paying for it.

WIC is nutritional? That is why they are not allowed to buy organic foods.. or organic milk... only pesticide/hormone ridden foods? No herbs allowed either... do you know how much nutrition lies in herbs? You can't buy organic baby food or any baby food with DHA in it... Too many issues with WIC to list here! Uh.... WIC is as flawed as SNAP in my opinion.

Walmart does not allow tobacco or alcohol. It separates it out to the cash portion of the sale. Junk food... is another story though.

This isn't about Ms Obama.
Those who drag the Obama's into everything are ultra conservative right wingnuts.
Some are racists using misinformation.
It is human nature to test the limits - that's why businesses that agree to enforce the rules need to do their job.
Business owners turn their heads when making illegal sales & more profit.
They signed a contract to be able to accept EBT cards on the condition they enforce the rules!
If they get caught making illegal sales they lose that right.

These people are not making illegal purchases. The state computer automatically disallows those purchases and KETK did not bother fact checking their reporter, they didn't even look at the state's rules!

http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/eligible-food-items

Bad reporting hurts everyone and spread bad information. Really sad considering that we believe that our network TV reports without bias and gives us the facts. It's becoming more commentary than journalism. Sad.

Probably the largest abuse of the SNAP system is beneficiaries selling their SNAP "dollars" to non-SNAP individuals. I have had many SNAP beneficiaries ask me if I wanted to purchase for 50 cents on the dollar their SNAP credits. One woman I know with three kids gets about $650 in SNAP and other monetary benefits a month and is willing to sell half, or $325, of her "dollars" at 50 cents on the dollar.

The shows how mentally challenged the woman is, because all monetary benefits can been withdrawn at any register. That's why they call them "monetary."

Probably the largest abuse of the SNAP system is beneficiaries selling their SNAP "dollars" to non-SNAP individuals. I have had many SNAP beneficiaries ask me if I wanted to purchase for 50 cents on the dollar their SNAP credits. One woman I know with three kids gets about $650 in SNAP and other monetary benefits a month and is willing to sell half, or $325, of her "dollars" at 50 cents on the dollar.

When businesses pay a living wage to Americans then gov't programs aren't needed.
130% Below the Fed poverty level.
$278/mo for 3= $1/meal.
Why attack people over this?
Small business owners KNOW who their customers.
Yet they sell them prohibited goods.
They too are law breakers to make a sale= profit.
What store owner is going to turn down a sale?
White collar crime costs US taxpayers $100 BILLION/yr
BOA fined $13 BILLION
No jobs for illegals= no illegals.
Ketk investigates chump change stories

In Grand Saline they get Gas, cigarettes and rolling papers as we see it eveyday.

You are seeing them use their monetary benefits from other state programs. The biggest misunderstanding is that SNAP is the same thing as the LoneStar card, but it's not. Many programs use the card, including SNAP. Just because they swipe the card does not mean the they are using food stamps to pay for those items. SNAP's computer database consists of the allowable UPC #'s of allowed food. If anything is scanned that isn't in the state's database, it rejects the purchase. Stores can't override.

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