WASHINGTON — The Agriculture Department says it is going to impose tougher penalties on stores that violate food stamp rules and give states new tools to root out applicants who are ineligible for the program that covers about 1 out of every 7 Americans.
The move to shore up integrity in the program comes as Congress struggles to pass a $100 billion-a-year bill that will fund food stamps and determine farm policy for the next five years. About 80 percent of the money in the farm and nutrition bill goes to the food stamp program.
Department Undersecretary Kevin Concannon said the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program already has one of the best track records among federal programs in fighting violations, with a trafficking or abuse rate of only about 1 percent of all transactions.
But in a program where even a small amount of abuse can amount to millions of dollars, “we are very mindful of public confidence” that only those who qualify will receive benefits, he said.
Meanwhile, the farm bill, which sets policy on crop subsidies and conservation, has made it through Congress in the past because the link with food stamps has made it popular for lawmakers with both rural and urban constituents.
With the current bill set to expire at the end of September, the Senate passed a new bill in June and the House Agriculture Committee approved a similar version in July. But House GOP leaders have declined to bring the bill to the floor for a vote, fearing disputes over food stamps would lead to its defeat.
The House bill would cut food stamp spending by about 2 percent, or $1.6 billion, a year, mainly by targeting policies making it easier for states to bestow benefits. House conservatives are demanding further cuts, while some Democrats say the proposed cuts are excessive.