(CNSNews.com) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture has published a report estimating that 35,891 food retailers around the country engaged in food stamp fraud, illegally “trafficking” more than $1 billion in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits annually over the three-year period from 2012 through 2014.
“Retailer trafficking of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits occurs primarily when SNAP recipients sell their benefits for cash to food retailers, often at a discount,” the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service said in a summary of the report.
“SNAP benefits are permitted for the purchase of eligible food items from authorized food retailers,” said the report. “The sale or exchange of SNAP benefits for anything other than food sold by an authorized SNAP retailer is illegal.”
The report, published in September 2017, looked at food stamp trafficking in 2012, 2013 and 2014, estimating that more than $1 billion in SNAP benefits were “trafficked” annually during that time period and that about 11.8 percent of the 303,522 retail stores authorized to accept SNAP benefits over the period were involved in trafficking.
“An estimated $1.077 billion in SNAP benefits annually were trafficked and thereby diverted from their intended purpose,” said the report.
“Overall, about 1.5 percent of total SNAP benefits were trafficked; and approximately 11.8 percent of all authorized SNAP stores engaged in trafficking,” it said.
Some types of stores were more likely to engage in food stamp trafficking than other types, according to the report.
This chart enumerating, by type, the stores estimated to have engaged in food-stamp trafficking appears on page 9 of the USDA report:
Publicly owned stories did not traffic in food stamp benefits, the report said.
“As there were no publicly owned stores found to have trafficked, privately owned stories account for 100 percent of all benefit dollars trafficked although they account for only 54.6 percent of all SNAP redemptions,” it said.
Larger stores were less likely to traffic in food stamps than smaller stores and “convenience stores” were the most likely of all to engage in trafficking.
Of the 35,891 food retailers the report estimated engaged in food stamp trafficking, only 30 were categorized as “supermarkets” and only 42 were “large groceries.”
By contrast, 1,700 were medium-sized groceries; 4,850 were small groceries, and 25,954 were “convenience stores.”
While only 0.07 percent of supermarkets engaged in food stamp trafficking, according to the report, 23.32 percent of small groceries did and 19.42 percent of convenience stores.
“Trafficking was most likely to occur in the most urban areas,” the report said.
“The store violation rate rises in accordance with the level of urbanization,” it said. “The most rural areas have the lowest story violation rate of just above 5 percent and the most urban areas have the highest store violation rate of 14.4 percent.”
“Trafficking is defined as buying or selling benefits for cash or consideration other than eligible food, and the penalty is permanent disqualification,” said the report. “Permanent disqualification occurs when a retailer’s authorization to redeem SNAP benefits is revoked.”
A USDA summary of activity in the SNAP program in fiscal 2016 indicated that there were 1,845 retailers permanently disqualified from the program that year.
A breakdown by states showed that the largest number of retailers permanently disqualified from SNAP in fiscal 2016 were in New York (448), the second largest number was in Florida (175), the third largest was in California (133) and the fourth largest was in New Jersey (130).