Laws are in place for a reason: they set up a system of norms in which people can live by one uniform standard. Breaking the law can get you into pretty serious trouble, ranging from something as minor as a warning or ticket to something as severe as decades of prison time. That said, many of us break laws on a daily basis, whether it’s speeding on the freeway, gambling in your home, connecting to an unsecured wifi network, or underage drinking. These aren’t always the worst laws to break, but it’s breaking them nonetheless. When it comes to the food stamps program, though, their laws are of a different standard: they’re put in place to keep the system financially in check and to prevent people from engaging in the black market. But as you’ll soon see, that just doesn’t matter to a small handful of people.
On East Silver Star Road in Ocoee, Florida, there’s a shop called Lucky Food Store. You’d drive past it if you’re in the area, because it’s on a major road and nestled between Stark Lake and Lake Olympia. It’s also one of the millions of stores in America that accepts food stamps, making it even more attractive for the people in the area because it gives them easy access to food without having to drive all the way to a major retailer.
It’s also one store in the country that regularly engages in food stamps fraud, and has had numerous complaints against it in since 2010. Because of that, Orlando’s Channel 9 decided to go undercover and see for themselves exactly what was going on. They sent Vanessa Welch in with a hidden camera and, well, read on to find out what she learned.
Welch, with her hidden camera on her, went into the store right after another man entered it, and she taped him using his EBT card in exchange for cash. She watched as he spoke a few words to the clerk, punched in his PIN, and was given $20 in cash. Welch spoke to him outside, and the man showed her his receipt, which the clerk debited his card for $36.93. “It was easy,” he said, also mentioning that he’ll return once his cash runs out to do it again.
With this information in hand, Welch went back into the store to speak to the clerk. She told him she had just taped him handing out cash in exchange for food stamps, but the clerk denied it. He also denied knowledge of anyone else in the store doing it, saying, “Not that I know of.” Never mind the fact that Welch actually told him she’d caught him on videotape, as that didn’t seem to faze the store clerk one bit.
As mentioned before, Lucky Food Store had committed food stamps fraud more than once. So why hasn’t it been pulled from the program? According to an audit performed by the Division of Public Assistance Fraud, “more than half the tips coming in were rejected because of ‘workload issues’”, with Jack Heacock, the director of the DPAF, saying, “We are continuing to improve the effectiveness of our investigations.”
But when it comes to those very investigations, the audit also showed that there are only seven investigators handling tips in Orlando (where Channel 9 went). Heacock also alluded to this, mentioning that there’s a backlog of 2,000 cases that are “pending assignment”, but that the “number of cases they’ve sent to prosecutors has doubled.”
Until that backlog gets cleared, though, shops like Lucky Food Store will continue to commit food stamps fraud because they know the likelihood of getting caught is slim to none.
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