Food stamp fraud raising concerns in gov't offices:
WASHINGTON (AP) - Food stamp recipients are ripping off the government for millions of dollars by illegally selling their benefit cards for cash - sometimes even in the open, on eBay or Craigslist - and then asking the government for replacement cards.
The Agriculture Department wants to curb the practice by giving states more power to investigate people who repeatedly claim to lose their benefit cards.
It is proposing new rules Thursday that would allow states to demand formal explanations from people who seek replacement cards more than three times a year. Those who don't comply can be denied further cards.
"Up to this point, the state's hands have been tied unless they absolutely suspected fraudulent activity," said Kevin Concannon, the department's undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services.
Overall, food stamp fraud costs taxpayers about $750 million a year, or 1 percent of the $75 billion program that makes up the bulk of the department's total budget for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Most fraud occurs when unscrupulous retailers allow customers to turn in their benefits cards for lesser amounts of cash. But USDA officials are also concerned about people selling or trading cards in the open market, including through websites.