BEND, Ore. - The U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing new rules to let states ask people to explain why they need to replace food stamp cards. And while the request for multiple cards is common, households that request four or more in a year may be breaking the law..
About 800,000 Oregonians are on the food stamps program and about 1,000 cases of fraud investigated every month.
Of those 1,000 claims of illegality, about one-third turn out to be true.
"They misreport their income, or they misreport the number of people who live in the home in order to get more benefits than they would legally be in titled to -- and that's fraud," Oregon Department of Human Services spokesman Gene Evans said Monday.
It's also fraud for people to sell the card to somebody else for cash.
"Usually if you got $100 on your SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) card, people would sell it for $50," Evans said. "And then the person who has the card is using that $100 of benefit at a grocery store to buy food -- but that's still fraud."
The USDA wants to stop the illegal activity.
"We are urging states like Oregon to pay careful attention but we are also saying we're going to give you some more tools," said U.S. Undersecretary of Agriculture Kevin Concannon.
Concannon announced new measures so that when people request multiple cards -- over four of them -- states can now ask the recipient to come in and talk to them about why they need more.
"Remind people that if they are engaged in this, people are watching and paying attention," Concannon said.
Investigators are already watching websites like Craigslist and eBay every day, watching for people trying to sell them.
"It's not uncommon for a fraud investigator to find somebody who says, 'Oregon EBT Card -- contact me,'" Evans said.
Oregon already is making plans to participate in the program.
"Oregon takes fraud very seriously, and for the USDA to give us an additional tool to help the state regulate fraud and crackdown on fraud is welcome," Evans said.
While the department has a 1 percent fraud rate, Concannon says he would like to see it cut even more.
"Most Americans, I think, realize that there are people in our midst who are struggling. They support the SNAP or food stamp program," Concannon said. "But they want to make sure that it is well and strongly managed."
The most significant change to fighting abuse, according to Concannon, was the switch from paper coupons to the current plastic electronic benefit cards.
Since then, the department has been able to track certain patterns and redemptions for abuse.
To report fraud abuse or suspicious activity, you can call (800) 424-9121
To learn more about fighting snap fraud, you can log onto the Fighting SNAP Fraud website: www.fns.usda.gov/fightingsnapfraud.