Photos on FoodShare Cards Don't Prevent Fraud

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Chris Rickert from the Wisconsin State Journal had a couple of good pieces last week on AB 222, which would require photographs on FoodShare cards. As we shared with him in the piece, we oppose this provision because it would be expensive, almost impossible to implement effectively and ineffective antifraud measure.

The thing to remember is that FoodShare benefits are conferred to the whole family and so by putting a single person's photo on a card, it requires that one photographed person to do all of the food shopping for a family. This is not usually how families work and why such a provision is difficult to implement properly. 

But beyond the implementation challenges, AB 222 falls short as a public policy measure to deter fraud. It might sound great but here is why they are ineffective at fighting fraud: the bulk of the very small amount of fraud  in the program occurs when someone on FoodShare attempts to buy or sell their benefits to someone else. This requires another person to be complicit in an illegal transaction where a photo on a card would hardly be a deterrent. 

If you read the stories of bad actors prosecuted for FoodShare trafficking, it will often involve the proprietor of a small convenience store cashing out a person's benefits by ringing up fake purchases (for example, a recent case in Philadelphia). A photo doesn't deter this sort of activity since the two people have already agreed to defraud the system. 

We can all agree that fraud should not be tolerated. Public resources are precious and we deserve the right safeguards to ensure that benefits are being used properly. And the good news is that we have them. The USDA and the credit card companies that process EBT benefits already have very sophisticated data tracking and matching programs to root out this sort of fraud, investigate and prosecute the perpetrators. Does fraud and trafficking still occur? Yes, but at around 1.5%, it is at an all-time low and any corporation that could claim a 1.5% loss rate would celebrated. 

As the recent implementation example in Massachusetts has shown, photos on FoodShare cards only cause more problems than they solve


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