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USDA spends $5 million on SNAP fraud investigation SD newspaper would have done for free

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A year ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 vote that USDA can keep secrets about its most costly program.

It was last June that the Supreme Court denied the Sioux Falls Argus Leader’s Freedom of Information Act request about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP for marketing purposes.

South Dakota’s largest daily newspaper wanted to know where SNAP program recipients spent SNAP dollars, which use to be called Food Stamps.

In a decade-long pursuit, the newspaper said it was investigating all-too-common Food Stamp fraud and needed access to the names and addresses of retailers participating in SNAP along with each store’s annual redemption data.

The Supremes said no way was that was ever going to happen. USDA had cited an exemption from FOIA for “trade secrets or financial information” that may be kept confidential by federal agencies. And the Court sided with USDA., ending the Argus-Leader’s hopes for the data its investigative reporters needed to proceed.

USDA did admit it gets repeatedly taken by Food Stamp fraud. Fraudulent schemes have long plagued the program.

Investigation of Food Stamp fraud in the United States usually falls on regional law enforcement task forces or federal agents working under U.S. district attorneys. This month, USDA said it will tap federal taxpayers for another $5 million a year to fund a “SNAP fraud framework” to help combat the program waste.

SNAP is one of the nation’s largest welfare programs, offering cash-like options to the less-fortunate purchase food at retail stores. More than one in ten of the USDA-authorized retailers are likely engaged in fraud, according to government auditors and investigative agents.

SNAP spending in the fiscal year 2018 came in at about $65 billion,    It upward bound since then, especially with an added $2 billion per month added for the coronavirus crisis.

Past prosecutions include nearly 200 Floridians responsible for 22,000 transactions that took SNAP for $3.7 million and a flea market operation that snapped up $13 million before it was caught.

“Retailer trafficking” fraud takes the Food Stamp program for $1 billion a year, according to estimates. Government auditors figure 90 percent of small stores and up to 40 percent of large stores are targets of retailer trafficking.

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