GAO finds evidence of fraud in WIC benefits program online

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is concerned that infant formula provided as part of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, better known as WIC, is being sold online.

During a Tuesday hearing, Kay Brown, director of education, workforce and income security at the government watchdog agency, said GAO recently monitored four e-commerce websites for 30 days and found two posts that explicitly identified the formula being sold as WIC formula and 400 other posts that could have been selling WIC formula, given the brand of formula and quantity for sale.

“These posts raise questions that warrant attention by the U.S. Department of Agriculture given the growth of e-commerce in recent years and the value of formula,” she told the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education.

In fiscal year 2015, the federal government is expected to spend $21 billion in child nutrition programs that are intended to provide low-income students and their family members access to healthy meals. Tuesday’s hearing was held to address waste, fraud and abuse in those federal programs. 

Brown said the federal WIC program costs the federal government $6.5 billion in 2013.

Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) said he and his wife were eligible for WIC when they had their first son.

“It plugged a very important hole financially to ensure Parker and Penny had the nutrition they needed,” he said. “I take fraud and abuse very, very seriously because it’s taking food out of the mouths of those deserving and eligible.”

Brown said GAO looked at online formula sales because the increase of e-commerce increases opportunities for fraud.

“That’s the trick with fraud,” she said, “to make sure entities are staying one step ahead of those who may be more creative in thinking of ways to abuse the program.”

Tags Agriculture Business Child nutrition programs Federal assistance in the United States Food and drink Infant formula Kay Brown United States Department of Agriculture WIC

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