Efforts to reduce the illegal use of food stamps have kept millions of dollars in benefits from going to waste during the past five years, but small convenience and grocery stores in low-income areas continue to be hotbeds for fraud, according to the Government Accountability Office. The GAO is recommending that the Department of Agriculture intensify its focus on finding stores that violate federal rules and increase penalties for trafficking in misused stamps, reports USA Today.
The GAO’s recommendations, in a report released in October, come as Congress is preparing to revisit the $29 billion-a-year food stamp program next year as part of a giant farm bill. Among other things, the GAO is urging the office that runs the food stamp program to review the 160,000 stores authorized to receive stamps to determine which are most likely to engage in fraud and to target them for enforcement. About $241 million in food stamp benefits were stolen in 2005, and small stores accounted for $190 million of that.