Just Trying to Survive

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In 2015, the average Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipient collected about $127 per month in benefits. (That adds up to about $4.23 per day or $1.41 per meal.)

An Ohio woman, who had four grandchildren to take care of, bilked the program run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) of $34,000 and justified her actions because she was just “trying to survive.”

It would be incredibly hard to eat three meals a day on $4.23, so it’s important to understand how the program works. Households that are eligible for SNAP benefits are awarded an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card with funds based on the assumption that families will spend 30 percent of their net income on food. (It’s hard to know what the average person at the poverty line actually spends on food. They also have other bills to pay like rent, transportation and basic necessities.) A family with no net income gets the maximum benefit amount allowed for the number of people in the household. Judging by this table, the woman in today’s case probably received around $771 a month or a little over $5 per day per person. (That leaves you with just about enough money to buy celery and peanut butter. That gets old day after day.)

The SNAP program is supposed to make up the difference between the 30 percent contribution and the cost of the Thrifty Food Plan, the USDA’s low-cost but nutritionally adequate diet. Approved household members are allowed to buy food at any of the 261,000+ authorized retailers who participate in the SNAP program. The grandmother in this case was accused of submitting false claims in order to qualify for the SNAP benefits. (Did I also mention that she collected around $26,000 in Medicaid benefits she did not deserve?) She was later indicted for felony use of food stamps and Medicaid fraud.

The 57-year old woman originally pleaded “not guilty,” then pleaded “no contest.” (Let’s just say her illegal actions caught up with her and she was eventually found to be guilty.) She was sentenced to five years of community control. (That’s basically jail at home, which is a good thing since she has four grandchildren to look after.) She must also pay court costs and make monthly payments toward restitution for the $60,825 she stole from the two government programs over eight years. (That amount of money might be hard to collect.)

It was fortunate that this woman had no prior criminal record, so her sentence was lighter than usual. Because she signed a public benefits disqualification agreement, the grandmother is now without a safety net. If she violates the conditions of her sentence, she could face up to 17 months in prison. If she had followed the rules of these two government programs in the first place, she would be much better off.

Source: Today’s “Fraud of the Day” is based on an article entitled, Miami County woman ordered to repay $60K in food stamp, Medicaid fraud casepublished by Dayton Daily News on July 18, 2017.

TROY – A West Milton woman convicted of stealing more than $60,000 in food stamps and Medicaid benefits told a Miami County judge Monday, July 17, she was wrong, adding it was hard “trying to survive.”

Theresa Harris, 57, was sentenced to a mandatory community control sentence of five years and ordered to make monthly payments toward restitution of $60,825 stolen between June 2008 and August 2016.

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Larry Benson
Larry Benson is currently the Director of Strategic Alliances for Revenue Discovery and Recovery at LexisNexis Risk Solutions. In this role, Benson is responsible for developing partnerships for the tax and revenue and child support enforcement verticals. He focuses on embedded companies that have a need for third-party analytics to enhance their current offerings.