Press Release from District 6 State Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler)
$106.8 Million Spent Out-of-State with LoneStar Cards
Almost $5.7 billion of your tax dollars will be spent this year to assist Texans through the food stamp program. But is all of that money being used as it was intended? There are over 3.7 million Texans receiving food stamp government assistance, and much of the need is legitimate. However, I believe that greater scrutiny is needed in this program. For the last six months my staff and I have been researching Texas’ food stamp program and getting into the details on how your tax dollars are being spent. The research uncovered nearly $107 million in Texas food stamp spending outside of the Lone Star State – with over sixty percent spent in non-bordering states. This raises important questions of accountability and likely fraud in the multi-billion dollar program.
Texans Spending Food Stamps From Maine to Guam
The purchases were made using the state’s LoneStar food stamp cards over a two-year period between 2014-15. While spending in border states like New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana is to be expected, the majority of out-of-state purchases were in non-border states. Sixty-one percent of the $106.8 million was spent in states stretching from Maine to California, Alaska to Hawaii, even as far as Guam and the US Virgin Islands.
States with Highest Out-Of-State SNAP Spending 2014-15:
- Louisiana – $18.2 million
- Arkansas – $9.1 million
- Oklahoma – $7.9 million
- Florida – $6.7 million
- California – $6.1 million
- New Mexico – $6 million
- Idaho – $4.2 million
- Georgia – $3.8 million
- Mississippi – $3.3 million
- Colorado – $3 million
Schaefer Calls for More Agency Accountability, Legislation
What is the solution? This data is disturbing and shows a need for greater agency accountability in the program. I recently brought the information my office discovered to the leadership of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) and the HHSC Office of Inspector General (OIG), which has promised to investigate the data thoroughly.
To address concerns of fraud, waste and abuse, HHSC is creating a Public Benefit Integrity Unit that will utilize computer analytics to better identify fraudulent applications before benefits are distributed. Verifying a recipient’s identiy is critical to the integrity of this program because over 65 percent of those receiving state benefits (including food stamps) apply online. HHSC is also developing software to analyze IP address data to detect persons that are applying for benefits from a computer address that is out of state. These needed technological programs will provide better oversight to the program, but there is still work to be done on this issue.
My office will be monitoring this situation closely and will prepare legislation to address any problems it uncovers. Last legislative session I proposed a bill to add the recipient’s photo ID and name on the LoneStar cards to help deter fraud, but the bill faced opposition from special interest groups and never made it to the House floor for a vote. I will re-introduce the bill in the next legislative session.
Massachusetts Ahead of Texas on Food Stamp Reform
Massachusetts has been proactive in deterring fraud by placing the name and photo of the recipient on their cards, just like on a bank card. If Massachusetts can do it, Texas can too. The goal is not to make it harder to use the card, but to make it more secure.
We all recognize the need to assist the less fortunate with life’s basic needs in times of hardship, but we have an obligation to do everything we can to root out fraud, waste, and abuse. It’s not just a question of dollars, it’s about protecting the integrity of the food stamp program for the millions of Texans who depend on it, and the millions more who pay the tax dollars that support it.
Food Stamps at a Glance:
- Texas’ Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as food stamps, provides food and vital stopgaps to over 3.7 million Texans facing financial hardship, finite unemployment or long-term disability. Since 2000, Texas enrollment in SNAP has nearly tripled, and administrative costs have increased by sixty percent in the past ten years. The average SNAP recipient receives $281 per month in benefits. Only people who have a current residence in Texas can qualify for SNAP benefits. Certainly Texas residents travel and visit other states, but how many of them have permanently relocated? How many are abusing the system? How much is pure fraud?
- Manual transactions are possible with the LoneStar card, meaning if you have the card number and the Personal Identification Number (PIN) then a merchant can enter the information into a point of sale system and complete a purchase. Selling LoneStar card numbers is a common form of SNAP fraud that occurs with regularity in Texas. In March of this year, arrests were made in connection with retail food stamp fraud at a meat and seafood market in Marshall. Additionally, in the past three years, the OIG has completed investigations finding over $45 million in alleged food stamp fraud.
Texas State Representative, District 6