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In fiscal year 1974, there were 521 successful prosecutions of persons accused of food stamp fraud in State and local courts. The dollar amount of losses to the program related to fraud committed by these individuals was $460,810.16. In the first two quarters of fiscal year 1975, there were 170 successful prosecutions of food stamp fraud with a connected loss to the program of $159,025.
Virtually all food stamp fraud prosecutions are undertaken at the State or local level. Many States now have cific legislation dealing with food stamp fraud, although several States prosecute under general fraud statutes. FNS (Food and Nutrition Service) does not have statistics which show the extent of jury involvement in the determination of guilt in these fraud cases. We do know that jail terms are usually suspended, but losses to the program are recovered because restitution of the overissuance is almost always made a condition of probation.
There is virtually no prosecution of “routine” fraud cases at the Federal level. For this reason, FNS has encouraged States to enact model food stamp fraud legislation. We are hopeful that the decrease in prosecutions noted in the last two quarters of fiscal year 1975 is an indication that the willingness of local officials to prosecute fraud cases has served as a deterrent to fraudulent applications.
The following table provides a breakdown of successful fraud prosecutions by location:
SUCCESSFUL PROSECUTIONS FOR FOOD STAMP FRAUD IN STATE AND LOCAL COURTS, FISCAL YEAR 1974
SUCCESSFUL PROSECUTION OF FOOD STAMP FRAUD CASES, JULY-DECEMBER-FISCAL YEAR 1975
OUTREACH AND TARGETING
These two provisions are mentioned together because the Subcommittee believes that the success of Outreach depends on definable target population.
Many of the witnesses who testified about outreach did so in very harsh terms about the seemingly inept manner which has “guided" the outreach program in the past.
The General Accounting Office recommended that groups to which outreach efforts are geared, should be better identified.
Specific methods that should be used to reach non-participants have not been established.
The Administrator of the Food Stamp Service has not stipulated definite guideliues and so as a result some reports on outreach have included only broad general statements on the efforts employed.
According to State reports most outreach efforts include the minimal distribution of program literature, spot announcements on radio and television, discussions with groups with special interest in the program and sometimes discussion with local community action groups.
The letter is not often employed as witnessed by Mr. Perry's testimony in response to an inquiry by Senator Weicker:
We had talked with the Director of Out-Reach. He came to our office. He talked with us, because he said he had the primary responsibility for out-reach, and we think this to be the man to talk to and at this point we have no positive response.
We requested data from the State Welfare Department, relative to any information that they had on the food stamp program, application forms themselves.
We have seen not one single document from the State Welfare Department relative to that request.
Later, Mr. Perry also said: In Connecticut, sir, I would say, at least from the information I have available to me and what I have seen, I would say that number one, the program is desperately needed but for some reason, within this whole bureaucracy, this failing to reach the people who need the services, in addition to my position with the community action agency, I am on a task force for the area agency on aging and we are trying to gather data to find out why the elderly, in particular, are not participating in the food stamp program.
We are finding some things that are really alarming at this point. We do not know what that general pattern is at this time, Interlocking problems of verification of income, certification and eligibility determination were all viewed in close context, one with the other, and the Subcommittee found it hard to separate the problems of each. Ms. Fran Ryan, a member of the City Council from Columbus, Ohio, gave ample testimony relating to the "certification and waiting' problem in Columbus, when she said:
We started Operation FEED, an emergency food program, because the Federal Stamp Program
took so long to deliver. Our process (Operation FEED) works because we have hooked up with all of the community agencies and we use a referral system and that person comes down with how much they are making and that kind of eligibility which is basic requirement.
They can go right into our community centers where we have our Operation FEED voucher set-up and begin to apply immediately for that and then we can send them to a pantry to get food for that day.
They do not have to be hungry for ten days to wait for that kind of a program, so what I am saying, Senator, we do have the need to say to someone, if you are hungry and you do not have food and you are not getting unemployment check for two or three weeks, here is an application that is just very basic, fill that out and then follow that up.
I think this is what I would look to at this time, address myself to, is the follow up system, that is so lacking in so many of our programs and we intend to have Operation FEED followed up.
When a person once gets a voucher, call back in 30 days to make sure they have gone on to the kind of assistance program they should have gone on to, not a continuation of our program, so that I do think that we should look at how we treat an individual when they are faced with a problem.
Mr. Perry of the Ansonia Community Center called for congressional instructions to the USDA which would allow for immediate certification of any recipients and allow for a 30-day examination period for future certification.
Mr. Samuel Bauer, Director of County Welfare Department in Cleveland, and Mr. Albert Science of the Norwalk Community Federal Credit Union of South Norwalk, Connecticut both suggested extensive pre-screening of applicants by community groups so as to cut down on trips for applicants plus assure that only those persons who are virtually assured of eligibility would be applying. Extensive pre-screening would also provide Administrative "cost-savings."
The General Accounting Office felt that more information should be made available on the Outreach Program.
The General Accounting Office February 28, 1975 report stated:
Because the USDA does not have adequate data on the program's target population or on program participants, there is definite confusion over whether the program is helping those people it was designed to help. Inadequate data also inhibits the success of the outreach program.
TARGET POPULATION Several studies made by various groups in recent years indicate that from 27 million to 39 million people may be eligible for food stamps.
The staff of the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs estimated that 26.7 million people lived in poverty during 1972.
The staff of the Subcommittee on Fiscal Policy of the Joint Economic Committee estimated that 73 million people were eligible for food stamps in March 1974.
Two economists involved in social research work estimated that from 34 million to 39 million people were eligible for food stamps in March 1974. The data on which these studies were based has some inherent limitations because of such things as the lack of verification of income and other data, the use of certain assumptions to compensate for data being incomplete or not being compatible with food stamp program eligibility requirements.
Additionally, the data on program participants only falls into two major categories—those on public assistance and those not on public
1 Page 7, GAO report, Feb. 28, 1975. This example is based on a report from I county.
It is necessary that USDA begin collecting more detailed information about both the gross and net income levels of program participants and relating this data to bonus value of stamps received. Since testimony received at the hearing indicates that under present law and regulations, 25 percent of the nation's population is currently eligible. Congress must be kept informed about how well its objective of meeting the nutritional needs of the poorest persons is being met. It must also be informed of the potentials for program growth and cost in order to be able to refine its objectives in light of experience.
Different data sources make different estimates of the distribution of program participants by income level. None is definitive. Since the USDA reports data only on net income level, after deducting many expense items, it is impossible to judge the impact of USDA regulations on potential eligibility. The tables inserted on the following pages compare data on the gross income of food stamp participants as revealed by the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey (CPS) and the University of Michigan Survey Research Center's Longitudinal Survey (MLS). These data show that due to the effect of itemized deductions, a large percentage of food stamp participants have gross incomes over $10,000 per year. However, these data are not weighted for the lower bonus value of stamps purchased by these persons. It is not possible from any available data to determine the distribution of bonus value (the actual benefits of the program) by gross income level of participants.
TABLE 4.—INCIDENCE OF FOOD STAMP USE BY INCOME LEVELS, AND INCOME CHARACTERISTICS OF USERS
COMPARISON OF CPS AND MLS SURVEY FINDINGS
Percent of families at each Percent of food stamp families
May 1973 annual, 1973 May 1973 annual, 1973 A: $2,000
22 $2 to $3,000
12 $3 to $4,000
17 $4 to $5,000.
14 $5 to $7,500
24 $7.5 to $10,000
20 $10 to $15,000 Over $15,000 Not available
TABLE 7.-REGULARITY OF FOOD STAMP USE AND OTHER CHARACTERISTICS OF FOOD STAMP USERS IN 1973,
BY SELECTED INCOME/NEEDS LEVELS—MLS SURVEY DATA