Food stamps: People abusing taxpayer dollars

Alexandra Carter

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

UPDATED: Wednesday, November 19, 2014 - 1:06pm

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

I think they should do it like with wic. get only what you need. its to supplement you, give you nutrients you need.

I was a caseworker for 24 years for food stamps, medicaid, Tanf and then the Department of Aging and Disabled (DADS). There are very strict application processing that must be done by each caseworker in order for people to get any kind of benefits. It does not matter what they are applying for. I did everything that I was required to do to make sure benefits where going into the right households. Most people on public assistance are the working poor.

This article has a low-hanging factual error: "Banned items include: beer, liquor, tobacco, ice cream, soda, candy, seafood and steak." The only banned items in that list are "beer, liquor, and tobacco." If it has any nutritional value (FDA label), it's fair game. (Which is good: people who are already humiliated to ask for help don't need anyone judging whether they deserve what they eat.)

Did a real journalist actually research this? Maybe hire one before your next hit piece...

i get food stamps and don't even need them... somethings got to pay for my alcohol abuse!

If there was a set limit of 237 dollars regardless of family size, this would help. There are women that have children to live "off" the system. There are men that help their "friend" to live" off" the system. Seems to me, as harsh as this sounds, require the mother to identify and locate the father before anyone qualifies. At least there would be a shot at collecting our money back. Just a thought.

If people need help thats fine with me, but im sick of all the hoodrats waiting on there check the 1st of the month that the rest of us pay for. They have iphones and brand new cars they are doing btr than me and i work my but off to pay for it! you should get welfare for one kid for 2 years and if you continue to have kid and dont get married just so you can get a bigger check. STARVE YOU PARASITES!

I have seen people abusing it for years. What about the people who work under the table or on ranches and never report their income! Some of them make excellent wages and get meat from the ranches also. I worked with a woman once who was making the same salary as I was plus got over six hundred a month in food stamps just because she had 6-7 kids. I only had two and never took a dime of govt money. I worked extra jobs and cleaned houses to feed.cloth, and house them.

White Collar Criminal "good ol' boy" types cost this country $Billions$ every year.
They've got politicians bought & paid for.
The pols & officials turn their back on their criminal activities.
They're multi-millionaires & don't need the $.
GREED drives them.
They "deserve" that 3rd vacation home, mistress, & bigger yacht.
SNAP people are scraping by.
What do they own & what do they have to look forward to?
Maybe con the system for a few thousand$.
They're amateurs compared to the good ol' boys.

Agreed! It's not our communities fault that all the factory jobs moved away. It is NAFTA and similar government policies that allow this! And these low-wage paying big box stores love SNAP and child care subsidies because it enables them to continue denying people a living wage. They rake in billions of dollars a year while we (the community) pay to feed their employees. That comment that SNAP was someone undermining our independence is idiotic. I want a count of employed people on SNAP!

There are so many false rumors, lies, gossip stories, what-have-you's, going around! The fact is you CAN NOT buy beer, ciggarettes, toilet paper, diapers, etc. with SNAP funds. I am not concerned if a kid has a candy bar bought with SNAP $'s. Poor kids shouldn't have candy? And women DO NOT have babies to get TANF!!! That's a HUGE misconception. There's liars in every crowd, but for the most part, welfare recipients, the poor, are GOOD people! We need to care for each other, not judge!

I know of someone that gets $1,250 a month disability, half goes to a $40,000 back child support for a bunch of kids he never took care of. he lives off of someone, works, cash under the table. Scams women for money. Has a Harley with disabled tags, goes to bars every night, bike runs, out to eat every day, n never does without. Been getting f stamps since 2009, as of now $200 a month. Gets disability for liver disease caused by yrs of drug abuse n alcohol. Just doesn't seem fair

What about the R & R Mercantile in Wells, Texas? Most of the people in Church of Wells used Food Stamps and Wic in their own store - also they had a laundromat.

Then Walmart is BREAKING the law!
Drop a Dime & turn them in.
Fraud & waste is rampant in all Federal, State & Local gov't programs.
Gov Ricky is being investigated for the Public Integrity scandal & will likely go to jail.
Citizens need to speak up when they see a crime committed.
So-called victimless crimes cost taxpayers $Billions annually.
White Collar Criminals should be investigated, arrested, indicted, tried, found guilty, long sentences & stiff fines.
Good Ol' Boys are bad for business.

Walmart DOES allow candy, soda, and junk to be purchased with food stamps. I was a cashier for years there and saw a lot of waste with food stamps. I saw some people purchase cokes or gum to check their balance. Gum is not food! Unless things have changed in the last couple years, the only thing they did not allow was cigarettes, "energy drinks", and alcohol.

Update...See story in Washington Times August 21, 2014 re Food Stamps being sold online for art, housing and cash. SNAP fraud is rampant and becoming more so everyday. Check out recent reports from the Government Accountability Office. There have also been several other stories in the last few months reporting some government employees engaging in fraudulent criminal conduct regarding SNAP. The swipe card and punch in number game played now is not working. We need ID and signature.

@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!

You obviously do not understand the difference between, the deficit and the debt. The deficit is just the difference between what you bring in and what you spend. Revenues have be higher in recent years. Spending has been higher also, just the difference between the two is the deficit. Obama is still spending way more than the government is taking in. Now as to the debt, that is money borrowed. Bush did not run up $8T in debt. The debt increase was $4.4T-- Obama has $8T w 2 yrs left to go.

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.
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?

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

hey townidiot. why are you so bitter? why are you so mad at the world. why dont you take a look at your own life. what are you doing that is so great and differant? just sayin

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.

Here in W. TN, hamburger meat, and I'm not talking the expensive from the butcher area or ground round or chuck, costs more than $3 a pound, and that's the cheapest you can get with the exception of chicken; trust me, there is only so much you can do with chicken and still look at it. I get food stamps and I shop by the ads of 2 stores that aren't too far from the house; I have to get someone to take me because I can't get around. Fruits and veggies are almost not affordable....much less steak ~

Try being allergic to gluten/having a child that cannot have gluten, or that needs a special type of diet!!!!

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.


Sounds like you have waaaay too much time on your hands and need to find something better to do with your time than hate. It may take up a lot of your time, but it isn't worth it. Once you keep yourself busy with yourself you'll see how much waste hating was.

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.

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.

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

Amen sistah!

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?

R U serious???

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.

Yeah, you really have to watch out for those evil 6 year olds armed with candy and SNAP $'s. Do you seriously think that people with SNAP $'s are living high on the hog? C'mon! Maybe you need to take a trip to the local Office of Public Assistance. No, you probably shouldn't. You would probably be rude and mean to little children. So sad you think the way you do.

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