News Story

Food Stamp Abuse Rate Up But Enrollment Down

From 924,643 enrolled in 2012 to 684,001 last year

Violations by recipients of Michigan’s food assistance program have increased over the past several years. Formerly distributed in the form of food stamps, food benefits are now delivered through the Bridge Card, which resembles a debit or ATM card and can be used to purchase food and obtain cash.

A recent report from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General says that 4,076 cases resulted in disqualification from the program in the 2018 fiscal year. That’s 0.60 percent of 684,001 total cases. The cases were classified as “intentional violation disqualifications,” and they range from low-level misuse, subject to fines and temporary disqualification, to criminal referrals to local prosecutors.

Compared to 2012, the number of beneficiaries enrolled in the program has gone down, but the percentage of disqualifications for an intentional violation is higher. Out of 924,643 total beneficiaries in the 2012 fiscal year, 0.48 percent were subject to such disqualifications.

“Our Office of Inspector General assigned four additional agents to our Benefit Trafficking Unit in fiscal year 2018, resulting in increased enforcement efforts,” says Bob Wheaton, a public information officer for the department, said in an email. “We don’t necessarily believe there has been an increase in public assistance fraud or misuse of the Bridge Card.”

Wheaton also cited a federally funded public awareness campaign carried out in the media as a factor in the increased rate of reported violations.

“Our Office of Inspector General received a recipient integrity education grant from [the U.S. Department of Agriculture] and conducted a successful media campaign, which resulted in increased fraud and trafficking referrals through our welfare fraud hotline.” These advertisements include a brief radio spot, billboards, and social media efforts.