Some food stamp enrollees are collecting benefits in multiple states — USDA can put an end to it
© istock

If you move to Oklahoma from New Mexico, should you be allowed to receive food stamp benefits from both states?

Most Americans would have the same answer to that: no. This is common sense, and yet billions of dollars are spent on food stamp fraud each year—not because there are no laws to prevent this, but because they often go unenforced. The good news is that there is one key way the Trump administration can start correcting this problem right now.

Food stamp program audits reveal that enrollees across the country keep collecting benefits in one state after years of living in a different state—or worse, they collect food stamp benefits in multiple states at the same time.


In Missouri, thousands of recipients were using their Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards for out-of-state purchases in every state in America. This wasn’t a one-time mistake: The length of fraud ranged from three months up to almost two years.

In Ohio, more than 900,000 out-of-state purchases were made in the first half of 2015 alone. One scammer received benefits from New Mexico and Texas at the same time by using a relative’s address.

If you used a relative’s address to evade paying a state income tax, you would likely get slapped with a fraud charge. Fail to report an out-of-state change of address to the DMV and you could get hit with a fee for not having an up-to-date state license. But using false pretenses to collect taxpayer-funded food stamps in a place you do not even live too often goes unchecked—even when it results in billions of wasted dollars.

In 2017, Congress passed a law in an attempt to close this loophole by requiring enrollees to report out-of-state moves to food stamp agencies. The administrative rule that accompanies this law and allows it to be enforced, however, has never been implemented. Now the Trump administration should finish the job.

It’s critical that the reasons for this delay be looked at.

There is nothing partisan about this issue—this is about keeping the existing food stamp program honest and making sure those resources continue to exist for the people who really need them.


When people abuse the program and double dip on food stamp benefits across multiple states or collect benefits from a state they no longer live in, they are stealing resources from the truly needy. It is blatant and significant theft. Recipients making errors in reporting details, or in this case failure to report at all, are a chief culprit in billions in improper food stamp payments each year.

Congress gave the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) the authority to set the details surrounding the implementation of the out-of-state reporting rule, but nothing has been done. Congress should clamor and USDA should get moving.

The rule should be simple and to the point. Requiring food stamp recipients who move to another state to report that fact within 10 days would give state agencies the tools they need to keep their records accurate and protect tax dollars for the truly needy. To further strengthen program integrity, USDA should also encourage states to analyze food stamp transaction data to look for patterns of exclusively out-of-state purchases that strongly indicate instances of fraud.

Only looking at food stamp data months or years later is too late. The only way to prevent food stamp fraud is to keep state agency records as close to real-time as possible. To do that, food stamp recipients must tell the government when they move to another state.

The Trump administration has been a vocal advocate of solutions that keep welfare programs honest and protect resources for the truly needy. USDA can continue to make good on that promise by requiring food stamp enrollees to report out-of-state moves within 10 days.

In other words—enforce the law.

Sam Adolphsen is the policy director at the Foundation for Government Accountability.