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Letter from USDA to Governors

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PDF Icon Letter to Governors (321.92 KB)

November 15, 2011

The Honorable Robert Bentley
Governor of Alabama
State Capitol
600 Dexter Avenue
Montgomery, Alabama 36130-2751

Dear Governor Bentley:

Americans support helping families in need put food on the table, especially when times are tough, but they want to know that taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely. That is why, along with ensuring program access, one of my top priorities for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is further strengthening the integrity of the program and rooting out waste, fraud and abuse so that federal dollars are used appropriately.

I have witnessed the positive effects of SNAP (or Food Stamp Program as it is still known in some states) firsthand over more than 30 years administering state health and human services programs. I am convinced that the program has never been more urgently needed than it is today. That is why I am particularly concerned when this lifeline is threatened or compromised by individuals that abuse the program and why I stand committed to confronting abuse head-on.

I want to thank you for your state's efforts in this area and I ask for your continued support. While it is a state responsibility to investigate recipient fraud and hold bad actors accountable, the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is committed to serving as a partner with you in this effort.

A few months ago, I sent a letter to all state xommissioners (enclosed) expressing the need to redouble our efforts in pursuing and preventing violations. We have been active in reaching out to states since that time, but there is still more to do. We are talking to states about barriers that limit their ability to pursue fraud, and re-assessing policies where they may be contributing to those barriers. We want to have policies that support state work in this area and enable you to implement new strategies to prevent and address fraud, while ensuring that needy clients have barrier-free access to benefits and good customer service.

FNS recently issued two policy memoranda to states (enclosed) that are important pieces of this effort. The first, issued on Oct. 4, 2011, states that the intent to sell SNAP benefits is an intentional program violation (IPV). For example, those who offer their card for sale online can be charged with an IPV and disqualified from the Program for a period of time.

The second memorandum, issued on Oct. 14, 2011, reiterated the importance of states using data that FNS shares on retailers disqualified for trafficking to investigate client households suspected of trafficking violations at those same retailers. FNS' data mining system- called ALERT - provides a wealth of information that we routinely share with states. Up until now, not all states have been interested in working with that data. We are moving to change that.

We are not stopping with these policies. We are continuing to provide more and more tools to strengthen integrity. Regulatory changes are coming which build on authorities provided in the last Farm Bill. These include a regulation that defines the purchase and dumping of deposit bottle contents just to get the deposit or the selling of one's food purchased with SNAP benefits as a violation as well as regulations that will implement tougher penalties for violating retailers.

Another way we can help is to assist in the sharing of best practices. Towards that end, FNS has developed a new section on our Partner Web, a secured website managed by FNS and accessible by states, to serve as a central reference point for states on the subject of recipient integrity. This section will include policy memos as well as best practices shared by states. I encourage your state to take advantage of this source of information.

Program fraud, however limited it may be, undermines public confidence in government and jeopardizes the ability of SNAP to serve the tens of millions of struggling families who need it to help purchase a nutritious diet. The balance between program access and integrity is critical to the strength of this important nutrition assistance program. The partnership between USDA and the states is how we keep that balance in place.

Thank you again for your continued support of SNAP and your efforts to ensure that SNAP benefits are used for their intended purpose and that the waste, fraud, and abuse are not tolerated. FNS Regional Administrators have been talking to all State Commissioners looking for ways we can help. We will continue to have these conversations as we move aggressively along this path.

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me.

Kevin W. Concannon
Under Secretary
Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services



Page updated: November 22, 2023