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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session


Posted: March 27, 2018 09:53 AM
From: Senator Ryan P. Aument and Sen. Judith L. Schwank
To: All Senate members
Subject: SNAP Trafficking Penalties
In the near future, we intend to introduce legislation that amends the current penalties for those that engage in the fraudulent traffic of food orders, otherwise more commonly known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits.

Pennsylvania’s SNAP program is designed to help low-income households maintain nutritious diets by increasing their purchasing power at supermarkets and grocery stores.

SNAP benefits are placed in electronic accounts which can only be accessed by the recipient(s) through an Electronic Benefits Transfer (“EBT”) system. Eligible households for SNAP food benefits receive a card (similar to a debit card) called the Pennsylvania EBT ACCESS card, and can purchase authorized food products.

Unfortunately, there are individuals and some businesses which exploit this important program, unlawfully trading money or other goods/services in exchange for the SNAP benefits.

Unscrupulous merchants buy recipients’ EBT card for pennies on the dollar or send recipients to buy supplies for their business with benefit funds only to resell them for a profit. It’s not just large stores with the machines that process EBT cards that engage in this trafficking, but bodegas, food carts, independent stores - anywhere the easy profit of criminal trafficking in public benefits is found.

This criminal activity injects cash into the illegal market for drugs, including opioids.

The reason this bill is so important is that our outdated law treats the recipient who sells the benefits and the merchant who creates the illegal market for and traffics in those benefits, just the same. Just as our law differentiates between drug dealers and the buyers they victimize, so should we distinguish between recipients and nearly professional traffickers in public benefits.

For example, the Office of State Inspector General (“OSIG”) uncovered a scheme where owners of a local Harrisburg restaurant would trade drugs for EBT cards then used nearly sixty (60) different recipients’ cards to buy thousands of dollars of supplies from a food wholesale club to be resold for profit. “SNAP trafficking is a serious problem in the commonwealth and a crime that the OSIG will pursue aggressively.” State Inspector General Bruce Beemer said.

In an effort to further deter and disrupt this growing problem, and at the request of our State Inspector General, we are proposing to create a new penalty for people who fraudulently traffic SNAP benefits in an amount greater than $2,500.

Currently, the penalty for this offense is felony of the third degree. Our legislation would make this offense a second degree felony, leaving the existing penalties for SNAP trafficking at lower levels in place.

Additionally, if someone were to be convicted of SNAP trafficking, our legislation provides that the offenders would be required to pay no less than two but no more than three times the amount of fraud they committed in restitution.

Our bill also would permit the Inspector General to refer SNAP trafficking violations to appropriate local or state licensing entities if the offender is commercially licensed and violators would also now be included on the state’s debarment list.

We all recognize how important social programs are to help the truly needy in our Commonwealth. One of the ways to preserve these vital services is to ensure that they are being utilized in a manner consistent with their original purpose.

Fraudulently trafficking of public benefits - particularly those intended to help feed the neediest among us - should never be tolerated and we hope you will join us in supporting a bill intended to protect the integrity of the SNAP program.

Please consider cosponsoring this legislation.

Introduced as SB1127