(NaturalNews) New data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) about its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known more popularly as "food stamps," reveals that more people than ever are now taking handouts from the federal government to buy food. According to the latest figures, about 45 million individuals living in America are now enrolled in the food stamp program, which is more than double the number that were enrolled in 2003.
The same data, which was compiled for the fiscal year ending on September 30, 2011, shows that total expenditures for the food stamp program have also reached a record $75.7 billion, which is almost double the amount from just three years prior in 2008. The redistribution of taxpayers' wealth via the food stamp program is now the single largest annual expense in the USDA's budget, a serious point of contention in the current political circus.
Food stamp abuse is nothing new
Since the SNAP program has long been abused by many who are not actually in need of assistance, the latest figures are particularly concerning as they suggest that fraudulent use of the entitlement program may be on the rise. Either that or more people than ever are now legitimately unemployed and in need of financial assistance, an equally daunting predicament that poses its own set of problems.
Several weeks prior to the release of the new SNAP figures, USDA undersecretary Kevin Concannon issued a proposal that he said would help curb food stamp fraud by increasing penalties for retailers that illegally accept food stamps. The plan would also give states access to federal databases to help them verify whether or not SNAP applicants are truly eligible for assistance.
But the proposal falls short of actually identifying the types of food SNAP participants are buying, and deliberately keeps this information veiled from public view. According to the Washington Times, not even the federal government knows how SNAP dollars are being spent anymore, which means participants are essentially free to buy prohibited items like alcohol and cigarettes in some cases.
According to Concannon, the federal government is only responsible for ensuring that retailers are following SNAP rules, while state governments are responsible for tracking individuals. But within this paradigm, states often have no real incentive to go after SNAP scammers, as it would take a significant amount of additional manpower and financing to rid the program of the "moochers" who have basically adopted a lifestyle of food stamp abuse.
Many food stamp abusers sell their benefit cards, then report them stolen
One of the most serious abuses of the food stamp program involves users selling their benefit cards for cash, and reporting them stolen to their local county social services office for an easy replacement. In some states, the process is literally as simple as walking into the government building and requesting a replacement card on the spot, with no questions asked.
"To make [the program] 100 percent foolproof, you actually have to cause harm to some people who deserve the program, who are acting correctly," says Representative Jim Abeler from Minnesota, one of the worst states for SNAP fraud. Minnesota is currently in the process of clamping down on rampant abuse of the food stamp program by restricting spending and requiring that SNAP recipients' names be printed on their benefit cards, among other changes.