BOSTON (WWLP) - The state's welfare agency has announced new plans to crack down on retailers who commit food stamp fraud. The Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance is partnering up with the USDA and local law enforcement to go after unscrupulous merchants who buy off EBT cards for profit. The DTA signed a State Law Enforcement Bureau agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service. The "SLEB" agreement gives the state authority to investigate retailers who misuse "SNAP" benefits, formerly known as food stamps. That's something only federal investigators were previously allowed to do.
"The SLEB agreement will give us some new tools that will allow us to more effectively collaborate with local law enforcement and cities and towns across the Commonwealth to identify and investigate retailers who allow improper use of SNAP benefits," said Health & Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz.
In partnership with local law enforcement, undercover cops will be given decoy EBT cards that contain "SNAP" benefits. They'll catch retailers who buy EBT cards for less than face value, then claim the full amount on the cards from the federal government.
"A lot of those police, they're walking a beat. They know the places that stuff is going on that shouldn't be going on so we'll be able to join those forces together to really target … the places that are issues and shut them down," said DTA Commissioner Stacey Monahan.
Pittsfield is the only western Massachusetts city whose police officials have signed onto the agreement. 4 cities and towns have joined in total. But federal and state officials expect more to join in the coming months.
Federal officials estimate that for every dollar in food stamps, about one penny is spent fraudulently. That's about $330 million dollars in misspent money nationwide per year. 22 Massachusetts retailers in total have been disqualified from the federal SNAP program due to fraud.