Food stamp and WIC fraud still “rampant” in Wisconsin despite state’s efforts to crack down

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Food stamps being sold on the internet, moms trading formula for cigarettes --  and taxpayers footing the bill. These aren't new scams, but as the FOX6 Investigators have discovered, they are still really easy to pull off, despite recent efforts by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office to crack down on fraud.

DHS says since the release of the FoodShare Program Audit Report in 2012, a new Fraud, Recovery, and Enforcement (FIRE) Section of the Office of the Inspector General has saved taxpayers a whopping $25 million annually. DHS says it has ramped up efforts to monitor fraudulent activity in addition to preventinfood stamp 4g it upfront. The state has even developed a hotline to make it easier for people to report suspected food stamp fraud.

But a simple search on Facebook shows there's still plenty of people trying to beat the system. Online rummage sale groups food stamp 5on Facebook seem to be the most popular places to advertise. In most cases, buyers pay 50 cents on the dollar for Quest cards -- the green debit cards that replaced actual food stamps more than a decade ago.

Just take a look at these posts from earlier this year. For those of you not familiar with the lingo,  "ISO" means "in search of."

FOX6 found dozens of people searching online for food stamps to buy for cheap.

"I think it is incredibly rampant. One of the frustrating things is that it's so accepted. Everybody buys them and everybody sells them. No one stops to think that it's wrong and that it is really taking food out of people's mouths," Assistant Milwaukee County District Attorney David Feiss said.

Because Milwaukee County has hundreds of thousands of people getting food assistance (in 2012, $334,332,215 worth of food stamps were given to residents) - Feiss says it doesn't make sense to prosecute each person who might be selling their benefits.

So he follows the money.  cop activity 4

"If I have a store that's defrauding the program out of $30, $40, $50,000  in a year, I think I can have more impact on fraud against the program by going after that store owner than I can going after a hundred recipients," he says.

WIC, a nutrition program for women, infants and children, allows pregnant women and new mothers to buy healthy foods and formula for their babies.

But instead of buying fruits and vegetables, some people choose cash and cigarettes - -and some stores are all too willing to cash in. Undercover video obtained from Milwaukee County investigations shows undercover informants getting cash for WIC checks, and buying cigarettes instead of food or formula for their children.

The cashiers get the WIC checks, which are normally worth $100-$150.  In exchange, the stores give the women cash, anywhere from $20-$50, and sometimes they throw in a pack of cigarettes.

"It is a very easy crime to commit and it's a very high-profit crime and the consequences to date have not been all that severe," Feiss said.

more suspectsTo change that, the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office is working with DHS to crack down on WIC fraud. Dozens of store owners have been prosecuted in the last few years for theft or providing cash for WIC checks. Now the District Attorney is pushing hard for deportation, too, because about half of the store owners who end up in trouble are not U.S. citizens, says Feiss.

State Representative Samantha Kerkman (R-Salem) was one of the lawmakers who insisted on a state audit of the food stamp program a few years ago to "make the program what it should be."

“I’m a mom with two kids, and I just want to make sure that we’re feeding the kids that we need to," Rep. Kerkman said.

That 2012 audit revealed prisoners were receiving food stamps, people were spending their food stamps in other states, and more than 1,000 people had asked for new Quest cards -- some more than 22 times in a single year (a red flag they probably sold their own for cash).

"The selling of cards and the number of replacements cards was probably one of the biggest things that really did shock me," Rep. Kerkman said.

Since then, the state has taken major efforts to crack down on FoodShare fraud, but Kerkman says she's still waiting on the data to prove it.vlcsnap-2014-11-14-14h04m40s60

"We need to really work together better because the communication hasn't been there between the state and federal government on this program," Rep. Kerkman said.

The FOX6 Investigators submitted an open records request to DHS in the summer of 2014. The goal of that request was to compare data from the audit to current data -- to see just how much progress has been made in curbing food assistance fraud.

According to the data available, DHS says it has managed to save more than $2 million by making sure state prisoners aren't receiving food stamps. The state has also sent out 1,739 letters to benefit recipients who are suspected of fraud because they've asked for more than six Quest card replacements in a year's time.

Even after getting the warning letter, 56 households across the state have continued to request replacement cards.

When FOX6 News asked for data on the actual numbers of replacement cards issued since the audit, DHS wanted FOX6 to pay $722.56 for the records.

Rep. Kerkman says she's currently trying to get more statistics to make sure the state's doing everything it can to make the program run efficiently.

quest card 6She says county governments sometimes have limited resources to investigate FoodShare fraud, which is why the state should be keeping careful track of their efforts. Rep. Kerkman's also pushing for photo IDs to be put on Quest cards.

"I'd like to put the photo ID on the card of the adults who are utilizing the benefit in the household," Rep. Kerkman said.

Feiss and Rep. Kerkman both agree the people who sell their food stamps on Facebook or cash in their WIC checks for cigarettes don't represent the majority of people receiving food assistance. But the fact that it happens so openly should be frustrating to taxpayers.

"No one minds giving out a helping hand -- but we don't want to be abused," Feiss said.

If you want to report someone  you suspect of committing WIC or FoodShare fraud, the phone number for the state's new fraud hotline is 1-877-865-3432, or you can report online here: https://www.reportfraud.wisconsin.gov/rptfrd/default.aspx.

 

30 comments

  • Rene minder

    You need to look closer to the workers at w2..it people getting way more money then others..it depends on your “case worker” just saying. .I’m a hard working mother of 5 and I feel like I’m gettingoing screwed..I get 13?.00 in food stamps and there’s people getting 600$ and less kids. .don’t make sense..look inside…then you’ll see your real fraud.

  • Brenda Krahenbuhl

    Why dont you limit products to purchase….I work hard for my money and cannoy eat steak and lobster tail weekly. It is ridiculous that those getting handed benefits get a grocery allowance of $600+ .the cart is filled with chips soda lobster top notch steaks …..and then atill have money left so lets buy or neighbor things and get cash for it!

    • Michelle

      I agree Brenda…….name brand things in carts and I’m buying generic/store brand. The money should be for the basics, milk ,meat, vegetables, fruits and grains. No convenience foods like hot pockets or snacks like Doritos. I have no problem helping feed people in need. I do have a problem when they are buying junk to eat with my money.

      • hv

        I agree and my husband and I are spending way to much on food for our family of 4 so we can’t enjoy to have fun. One thing that has always pisses me off is the less you maie the more places like the ymca will help your family out. We are middle class and work so hard for everything we’ve got and can’t get a little help to have a little fun at the ymca or to send my child to camp manitou :(

  • OYE 2014

    Just yesterday i was behind and NON-Black person with a cart full of chips, soda, steaks, microwaveable food, lunch meat, etc totaled $383plus all paid for by the Foodstamp/ebt card so please don’t play ignorant, every race receives assistance and it includes people who really needs them too (college students, ppl who don’t abuse the system, foster parents, etc). I work I have 4 adopted children and my grocery bill is barely $300 /month, because I make too much to receive benefits, I pinch pennies smh. I’ve seen single ppl receiving $200.0 or a family of 3 receive over $500/month and on top of that most of the ppl receiving foodstamps, receives free or deduced meals for their children at school and now MPS meal’s are free. I believe they need to set limits to what can be bought with state assistance, its sad but the state needs better guidelines, I don’t get the system!

    • Debby Ward

      Those such as yourself are the ones in “Need” of this service, but because of the others fraudulent use, no matter what race, is why you don’t or can’t receive more.

  • JC

    Truth be told the people that set up and monitor this system are stupid. People are going to scam the system and to put no safe guards in that is typical liberal mentality. If they saved over 2 million already won’t it be wise to hire a firm to find the rest of the fraud? I’m sick of hearing they don’t have the resources to monitor the fraud it should pay for itself 10 fold if you monitor it. STUPID

  • Semper Fidelis, USMC

    DCARR0520, why not talk about gun related crimes , what are you smoking crack, what the hell does that have to do with this story, OH did you know GUNS are the reason why you are FREE today, they also save millions of lives every year, it’s snap cards and abortion that are evil, how much does millions of abortions cost per year, how much does it cost to have Barry Obama in office per year, see my point.

  • diane

    revamp everything show an ID go to a local set up place and that would be the only place you would be able to get subsidized food!!!! more control needed..and punish all those who cheat !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Amanda

    I just hate that there are families that really need these benefits that are being denied but people like this are getting hundreds of dollars in food stamps just to sell them. I work 1 full time job plus 1 part time job (averaging 60-65hrs per week) to support myself and my child. There was a time when I needed the help years ago and I didnt “qualify” for assistance. The system is flawed

  • PETTINESS

    TRUTH IS THAT THE MOST IMPORTANT PURPOSE IS BEING SERVED. FAMILIES ARE BEING FED.JUST BECAUSE A PERSON INCOME IS AT THE GOVERNMENTS LEVEL OF NOT QUALIFYING FOR FOODSTAMPS DOESN’T MEAN THAT THOSE FAMILIES ARENT STRUGGLING AND IN NEED OF SOME HELP AT LEAST SOMETIMES.FURTHER MORE I DON’T UNDERSTAND Y “MIDDLE CLASS” PEOPLE LOOK DOWN ON THE POOR BECAUSE IF THE BOTTOM CAVES IN EVERYTHING ON TOP SHALL COME DOWN. AND O IF U REALLY WANT TO BYTCH ABOUT THE TAX PAYERS DOLLARS BEING MISHANDLED LOOK MORE INTO THE POLITICAL PARTIES THAT ARE MISHANDLING TAX PAYERS MONEY ON A LARGER SCALE OF DECIMALS AND COMMAS.JUST A TRICK TO KEEP UR FOCUS OF THE BIG PIMPS.LESS FORTUNATE PEOPLE DO THINGS LIKE THIS ARTICLE SAYS BECAUSE THEY ARE TRYING TO SURVIVE.Y R U MAD?SHARING IS CARING.I HAVE ONE WORD B4 I GO.
    “REPARATION”

  • tasha

    Im black I work i my own house bills paid on time and I get stamps but I bet you I never sold my stamps even when I had a bad yr when I got laid off but I work at an grocery store i seen whites blacks n ect tryin to sell stamps in my line I tell them not in my line they be mad and I dont care then i have my boss come over and tell them the same thing its sad cause the ppl who really need it they messing it up for them…..I hate when a story like this come about 1st comment I see black ghetto queen when there’s a lot of whites n other races too doin it!!!

  • Paul E

    This is a good article but it doesn’t go far enough. There are a tremendous amount of people in need and more fail-safe delivery methods should be used. The ultimate goal is to get nutritious goods to individuals who are using the program.
    We’ve seen article after article define what’s wrong with the program but fewer solutions have been adapted other than reductions to those in need.
    Now is the time to use technology.
    The state representatives should gather law enforcement, retailers, The Wisconsin Grocer’s Association, to provide useful ideas to limit fraud in the program.
    For example, technology can be used to allocate how much of a family’s disbursement can be used to buy produce, dairy, or meat products. A cycle of healthy products could be very beneficial to recipients.
    The law states the following:
    Section 1. 49.795 (1) (dm) of the statutes is created to read:
    49.795 (1) (dm) “Traffic food stamp program benefits” means to do any of the following:
    1. Buy, sell, steal, or otherwise accomplish the exchange of, directly, indirectly, in collusion with others, or individually, food stamp program benefits issued and accessed through the electronic benefit transfer program under s. 49.797, or by manual voucher and signature, for cash or other consideration that is not food.
    Does this law cover solicitations?
    It would seem that individuals soliciting on Facebook could be issued citations immediately for their actions. I’m not a lawyer but i think the statue should be amended.
    From a retailers perspective, solicitation is a nuisance problem in stores and is not good for business. Customers do not want to be harassed or feel threatened by solicitors.
    Can we change the law? Change disbursements?

    • Locash

      WHY WOULD GROCERY STORES CARE ABOUT IT AS LONG AS THEY GET THE MONEY. IT GOES TO THEM NO MATTER WHAT…..DUH. SHOWS WHAT YOU KNOW.

  • 2ECOND

    interesting how when someone doesn’t like your response it instantly goes into moderation. don’t want to see any negative responses to your comment, then don’t comment!

  • Chris Multerer

    2ECOND…the behind the scene’s geek humanoid blocked my comment on something yesterday. And it sure wasn’t racist or profane. Oh, it was about the POS that assaulted the 101 year old lady.

  • Nicole N

    This is sad. I feel that the hard working mothers that actually need foodshare and are paying cash for food aren’t able to get it because the city is issuing it out to parents that really don’t care if their children eat. I am really tired of the city helping parents that don’t want to help themselves and rather wait to get a hand out and not do the right things with it

  • Sara

    I have 4 kids and get $290 I work 2 jobs, I work 6 days a week just to get by. Every time I make a little I get a lot taken away in food stamps (I see why some don’t work.) However, I buy generic brands and I coupon like no tomorrow in order to double or triple my $290. If I could get a year brake without any changes in my food stamps/assistance I could get ahead and get off assistance, but for every 2 steps forward I get, I get set 5 steps back with the major cuts you get from working.
    It is also not a career it is exactly what its called “assistance,” and something that should be temporary to get you on your feet. The system does not help though either it almost keeps you stuck needing the help. I think if you do not work, or go to school or actively looking for employment (if you are healthy enough to do so) tough for you. I sit and watch neighbors who get assistance who never work go to the bar every weekend, festivals, go out, eat fast food daily and I can not afford to so with 2 jobs. Makes you wonder, whats really going on?

  • Scott TheWolf Groth

    As a recipient, I agree with the photo ID idea! I’ve seen people abuse the hell out of the system and it makes me disgusted. There are disabled, low income folks, like myself, that are being hurt by those who abuse the system. Recently, I have also started shopping for a friend of mine who is also disabled, and more limited in her mobility than myself. As a new recipient, I have taken her card to do her shopping. She only gets $16/month, I get $47/ month. Obviously, if they go to the ID situation, I wouldn’t be able to simply use her card, but they could institute a proxy option for those who can’t do their own shopping, like the local food pantry uses. Paperwork has to be filled out for this, and both her and I have to verify in writing that I alone am her proxy.

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