The food stamp program, or supplemental nutritional assistance program (SNAP), is a public assistance program for low-income individuals and families within the United States. Like most welfare, or public assistance, programs within the U.S., the program is jointly funded by the federal and state governments, although administered by the states. When an applicant or recipient of benefits falsifies an application, applies for benefits in more than one state, or sells his or her benefits for profit, he or she may be guilty of food stamp fraud. The possible penalty for this crime can be incarceration, as it is generally charged as a felony.
When an individual applies for food stamps or SNAP benefits, a lengthy application must be completed. Among the information requested is information regarding all family members, monthly expenses and income, and any assets the applicant has, such as vehicles or bank accounts. There is usually a statement at the end of the application warning the applicant that submitting false information or omitting necessary information may be considered fraud, as well as what the possible penalty may be if convicted.
If an applicant is receiving benefits in more than one state at the same time, that is also considered food stamp fraud. The federal and state rules require an applicant to be a resident of the state wherein he or she makes application for benefits. Attempting to apply in a second state without stopping benefits in the first can lead to criminal charges.
Selling or transferring food stamp benefits for profit is another way in which a person may be guilty of fraud. Food stamps are intended to assist needy individuals in purchasing nutritious food. Only the recipient or authorized family members may use the benefits. A person who sells or barters benefits for cash, alcohol, or anything else of value is committing fraud.
Food stamp fraud is a serious crime and carries with it serious potential penalties. A person may be charged with a felony at the state and/or federal level. Although the penalties for a felony will vary among the different states, in most places, a felony conviction carries a possible term of incarceration of at least a year or more. In addition, conviction will prevent the offender from receiving food stamp benefits in the future, even if he or she is otherwise eligible.