D.C. Health Department Ditches Ad Campaign Encouraging People to Report Food Stamp Fraud

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 10: Kethia Dorelus a social worker with the Cooperative Feeding Program displays a Federal food stamps card that is used to purchase food on February 10, 2011 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Recent statistics show that nationwide, one in seven Americans receives help from the Federal government …
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The District of Columbia’s health department is ditching a taxpayer-funded ad campaign urging the public to report food stamp fraud.

The D.C. government released a statement on the ads, apologizing to residents for “sharing a message that is not a reflection of our values” and letting the community know the D.C. government had decided to remove them.

“The advertisement missed the mark, and DHS apologizes for sharing a message that is not a reflection of our values,” D.C.’s Department of Human Services (DHS) said in a statement. “In response to community concerns (and our own), DHS is removing the ads and taking steps to ensure future advertisements express our belief that SNAP is a critical and effective program.”

The ads were spotted in the city’s Metro rail system as Congress considers tightening eligibility for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) benefits in the 2018 Farm Bill.

The funds for the ad campaign came from a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant provided to the district for the sole purpose “of educating residents on ways to ensure the program can meet its goal of addressing food insecurity.”

D.C.—along with nine other states and the territory of Guam—received a $3 million grant from the USDA in 2017 aimed at making the public aware of SNAP fraud.

Despite the USDA’s intent for the money to be spent on SNAP fraud education, the D.C. government said it would “work with food insecurity stakeholders” to promote “more appropriate strategies to educate residents” on fraud prevention.

Because SNAP is a federally-funded program administered by the USDA, federal investigators are most often the ones who catch those engaged in fraudulent activities.

However, most fraud investigations begin at the state level because state agencies are responsible for administering welfare programs such as food stamps.

The most recent USDA data on food stamp prosecutions states that only 122 individuals out of 134,625 SNAP recipients in D.C. were ineligible to receive benefits after being prosecuted for SNAP fraud in 2016.

The same report, however, states that D.C. has the highest percentage of SNAP recipients per capita in the country—20 percent of the district’s population received food stamps in 2016.

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