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The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has been crusading against fraud and abuse in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, FoodShare or Wisconsin Quest. Today the front page of the newspaper included an article by the investigative reporters which began this way
A review by the Journal Sentinel – part of a larger investigation into FoodShare fraud – found nine Facebook users in Milwaukee and about 70 altogether nationwide who posted to Facebook seeking to either buy or sell food assistance benefits illegally or help others do so. Many more friends responded, and in some cases, later posts indicated that the sales were made.
The Journal Sentinel’s review exposes another example of how easy it is to illegally sell the state-issued cards and their benefits – and how little concern those who do it have about getting caught. In April, the newspaper reported that nearly 2,000 FoodShare recipients claimed they lost their card six or more times in 2010 and requested replacements – a sign that the program is being cheated, and one that state officials say they are examining more closely.
Think of this for a second. Their investigative team found nine people in the Milwaukee area, including one who had been a child care provider until her license was revoked.
How many people are on FoodShare? The Janesville Gazette explains.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says food stamp use nationwide increased 11 percent from March of 2010 to March of this year. Wisconsin’s increase was also 11 percent with more than 800,000 people receiving assistance through the state’s FoodShare program.
According to the US Census there are 959,000 people in Milwaukee County. We can safely say that there are more people on FoodShare in Wisconsin than the total population of the state’s largest city. Of that number, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found nine using Facebook to sell their benefits. These people were so desperate they were selling their benefits for fifty cents on the dollar.
Among my Facebook friends the only time FoodShare has been mentioned was in response to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s early article. Hunger Task Force director Sherrie Tussler in Milwaukee wrote a scathing rebuttal to their article.says the economy may be improving, but not for everyone. Tussler explains that “many people remain unemployed and need help with food.”
Tussler said she believes the vast majority of recipients are honest and that fraud is the exception. She said state officials should focus on the few violators and avoid actions to fight fraud that would end up hurting the majority of recipients who truly qualify for the program and need it to feed their families.
“It doesn’t make sense to hurt the program because of a few people,” she said.
Tussler said that some poor recipients make the bad bargain of selling their benefits for less than they’re worth because they have to scrape together cash to pay rent or fix a car to get to work.
Individuals or families who use FoodShare in Wisconsin include people of all ages who are employed but have low incomes, are living on small or fixed incomes, have lost their jobs, or have disabilities and can’t work.
Isn’t that the real scandal? Wisconsin Public Radio News says more than 13 percent of Wisconsin residents currently receive food assistance. At a time when politicians put forward plans to create jobs, more than 1 in 10 people in our entire state need this benefit. Even that does not tell the true story of deprivation because thousands who would qualify may be denied, unaware that they qualify or feel stigmatized at the idea of asking for help.
If you doubt that FoodShare contains a stigma just do a search in Facebook using the term FoodShare or EBT card. Among other things I found a group with a stereotyped picture of a black man asking why he could not use FoodShare to buy malt liquor. Why is the newspaper with the resources to investigate real crime like corporate welfare beating the drums to tack down nine Milwaukee area people on Facebook?