State, local authorities looking for those ripping off Lone Star food program

Video of news report here -

KVIA-TV – El Paso

In El Paso, there are close to 200,000 people receiving the SNAP food benefit (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), which offers nutrition assistance to millions of low-income individuals.

People rely on the federally funded SNAP benefit to provide for themselves or their families, however not all are deserving.

In 2015, the inspector general for Human Health Services Commission said they have referred 42 cases in El Paso involving $750,000 in stolen benefits.

Health and Human Services only has 17 investigators working in the Borderland, which Inspector General Stuart Bowen Jr. said are "suppose to crack down on those crooks that are stealing this money."

After reviewing court documents and speaking with the district attorney most fraud cases in the Borderland revolve around recipients lying about their income or number of people in their households.

"It's a lie, straight deception in the eligibility process," Bowen said.

District Attorney Jaime Esparza said the application process is rigorous but the multitude of questions need to be answered to aid in the applicant's problem.

Esparza said, "One of the things when you apply for food stamps, there are a lot of forms to sign, but they are pretty clear about that it is a need-based program. So what you tell us matters. We have to know what your income is and how many people are in your household. Because the amount of food stamps you receive is based on that."

The monthly stipend recipients receive is based off the information they provide to the Human and Health Services. However, those who lie and take advantage of the system are sought after and punished.

Bowen is confident in his team of investigators: "Just because you think that you're not skimming too much doesn't mean you will get away with it," he said. "We will come after you. We do go after the bigger cases when we find them aggressively because that is the taxpayer money."