Covering Louisiana

Oct 30, 2013 5:27 PM by Letitia Walker

Sen. Vitter requests investigation of food stamp fraud following glitch in system

U.S. Senator David Vitter is asking for those who took advantage of the glitch in the food stamps system to be penalized.

Today, Vitter sent a letter to the Louisiana Attorney General and the Secretary of Department of Children and Family Services. He's asking for "aggressive action on the fraudulent events" during the recent outage of the Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) system.

"The outrageous theft and fraud at several Louisiana retailers, including at the Wal-Mart stores in Mansfield and Springhill, is completely unacceptable," Vitter said. "Like many citizens, I am appalled and believe there should be serious consequences for what occurred; so far, I have heard of none."

Vitter has made three recommendations for state officials.

1) Take action to ensure that no reimbursements are made to retailers who didn't follow proper protocol.
2) Disqualify any EBT beneficiary who knowingly stole groceries during the outage.
3) Work to set up a local task force to pursue prosecutions of the theft and fraud cases.


As we've reported, the state has said they would not pursue charges against those who used more food stamps than they were allowed because it was the store's responsibility to limit what was purchased.

We've also told you Walmart stood by their decision to keep allowing people to use the cards, despite the glitch, because it "was in the best interest" of their customers. They also told us there was no "material impact" on their U.S. business as a result of the overage.

Here is a copy of Vitter's letter:


October 30, 2013

Buddy Caldwell
Office of the Attorney General
State of Louisiana
P.O. Box 94005
Baton Rouge, LA 70821

Suzy Sonnier
Office of the Secretary
Department of Children and Family Services
P.O. Box 3776
Baton Rouge, LA 70821


Dear Attorney General Caldwell and Secretary Sonnier:

I write regarding the outrageous theft and fraud that occurred on Saturday, October 14, 2013, in the Louisiana SNAP or Food Stamp program.

Food Stamps have more than doubled in cost since 2008 and continue to grow in an unsustainable way, and the events in Louisiana unfortunately highlight the fraud surrounding the taxpayer- funded program. I believe there should be serious consequences for what occurred; so far, I have heard of none.

On October 14, a system failure by Xerox disabled the Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) system across many states, including Louisiana. This essentially erased any spending limits on many beneficiaries' EBT cards for a period of time, contrary to law. Some Louisiana beneficiaries reacted by purchasing huge quantities of merchandise in dollar amounts clearly beyond their limits. Also, reports include some people bypassing checkout lines completely and simply walking out with full carts during the confusion. The Louisiana reports from October 14 are very well-documented, including at the Wal-Mart stores in Mansfield and Springhill.

I want to make three recommendations to ensure that this serious problem is addressed.

First, I urge you to ensure that no reimbursements are made to Louisiana retailers who did not follow mandated procedures during the system outage. I understand that the Wal-Mart stores in Mansfield and Springhill did not follow protocol, which requires a $50 limit and a requirement to call for authorization of charges during a system outage. Instead, these stores used a "store and forward" method, which allowed EBT recipients to knowingly leave stores with more goods than their EBT allowance would permit. If a retailer did not follow procedures and allowed customers to charge goods that were obviously excessive and beyond limits, they should not be paid by taxpayers for losses they facilitated.

Second, I urge you to disqualify any Food Stamp beneficiaries who knowingly stole groceries from retailers during the outage. It should be clear that someone who tried to buy massive amounts of groceries purposefully attempted to exceed the program limits. That sort of fraud should be met with disqualification from the program at the very least.

Third, I urge you to form a task force with local prosecutors to prosecute individuals guilty of theft and fraud in these incidents. Clear documentary evidence exists for those who purchased items clearly in excess of their monthly limit. Whether the retailers involved, who were also at fault, want to press charges should be immaterial since you have all the documentary evidence you need for successful prosecutions without their help.

This situation should be addressed aggressively. If not, I fear that it will only encourage more such incidents in the future. Louisiana has an opportunity to be bold and set the example that abuse of this taxpayer-funded program will not be tolerated.

Thank you for your attention to this matter and for your work for Louisiana. I look forward to your written response and stand ready to help in any way I can.

Sincerely,


David Vitter



Cc: The Honorable Bobby Jindal

 

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