Food Stamps are designed to help people in need get access to healthy and nutritious food. But like all government programs, there is opportunity for abuse and there are people out there who are going to use the program for what it was not intended for. The government has stepped up enforcement efforts to catch people who about the SNAP benefits program. We have to point out that the overwhelming majority of food stamp recipients are using the program for what it was intended for. Therefore this article is in no way trying to give the impression that the food stamps program is filled with fraud. On the contrary, we are actually highlighting the few bad apples who bring negative media attention to a program that is largely a force for good in our country. There is no denying it, with some 45 million people on food stamps in the United States, the program is an important safety net that is a bedrock for many families that are struggling. In fact, the program is so central to the lives of many, such that even a dip in those receiving food stamps does affect some companies on Wall Street as shown by a recent article.
Food Stamp Abuse is Growing
A recent story that caught our attention has to do with a Federal Government investigation into a Waterbury, Connecticut store that was alleged to be illegally trafficking in food stamps. The store allowed food stamps/EBT Card holders to come into their store and redeem their money for illegal goods, including cigarettes, glass pipes, bongs and hookahs. In exchange for allowing these EBT Card holders to buy illegal items, the store will charge them more for the items. It was discovered that during the 18 months that the government investigated the store, food stamp redemptions at the store totaled approximately $3.2 million, compared to the $120,000 – $240,000 that the store would otherwise get from food stamp sales in a given year. That is a staggering level of fraud, but it’s an indication of the extent to which some will go to divert money that is meant to help needy individuals and families into other uses.
In another recent case, a corner store owner was arrested in Flint, Michigan for allegedly using EBT benefit cards to buy good to stock up his store. However, that is not surprising at all. People are always going to find a way to cheat the system. Even though there is an approved food stamps list, people still want to buy things that are not on the list. The good news is that the government has increased enforcement to catch these thieves.
As the above video from Ohio shows, these people were arrested for trafficking in $900,000 worth of illegal items using food stamps. And it’s the same story. A small corner store is making a killing accepting food stamps, at a rate that is not normal for a small store. So, the government digs further and finds out there is an illegal activity going on. That’s how these generally unfold.
What is the profile of the average SNAP benefits card holder? The American voter has been made to believe that food stamp recipients are mostly freeloaders who would not even work to feed themselves but would rather rely on the government to provide a very basic need like food. Also, the perception is that the food stamp card holders do not really want to buy with their EBT debt card but rather want to buy alcohol and drugs to continue their addiction. Because the theory goes that the reason these people cannot afford to buy their own food is because they are lazy and perhaps addicted to drugs and alcohol and therefore cannot get up and work for their own food.
This perception is further perpetuated by politicians, who jump at every opportunity to cut SNAP benefits in the name of trimming government spending or eliminating wasteful government spending. Former United States president Ronald Reagan started this trend of bashing Food stamps recipients with his famous welfare queen campaign in the 1980s that have become the chorus for the conservative movement when they want to complain about higher level of government spending or government waste.
What will he interesting is for an neutral credible academic or reporter to spend time talking to SNAP benefits card holders and they will find that the profile painted in public is not even close to who the average ebt card holder is. And that’s a shame. With all the noise, what exactly are the holders of the prepaid cards allowed to buy on government assistance? Here is the list below:
You CAN use SNAP benefits to buy:
Foods for the household to eat, such as:
breads and cereals
fruits and vegetables
meats, fish and poultry; and
Seeds and plants to produce food for the household to eat
As you can see, there is not a lot of options on the list. The use of the card has been restricted to necessities that you need – nutritious food that people need to be able to function. So, the idea that people are freeloading on government benefits buying expensive food that people who are not on public assistance cannot afford to get is a big myth perpetuated by people with their own political agenda to embarrass those who are on government benefits. Another interesting data point that is often not known is that nationally, half of the 52 million eligible low income people receive food stamps, so not all low income people are on government benefits. In addition, a family of three must be making $19,767 to be eligible. That is very low, so you can see why these people will need help buying basic food for a family of three to survive on.
And because the percentage of poor people in the United States that are getting government food assistance, in form of SNAP benefits vary considerably from state to state, just picking one state and making a point out of that is not painting the full picture. Also, reasons why there is an increase in one state versus another is purely a function of economic conditions prevailing in that particular state that may be limiting the mobility of people out of poverty. And if a particular state is unable to lift people out of poverty through policy, then it is easy to see how a large number of people from that state are likely to depend on the government for some of their basic needs, including energy, food and educating their children. If these people are left on the sidelines, they become bigger problems for us all to deal with much later, at a more expensive price tag.
We strongly believe that the Bluebird Prepaid Debit card is one of the best on the market and since it arrived about two years ago, it has really revolutionized the market and made the competition – like green dot, Vanilla Visa and Rush Card to pay attention and offer better choice and options to their customers. Here is a Video describing what the card is all about:
The American express bluebird card is a prepaid debit card that is issued in conduction with Walmart Stores. If you visit a Walmart location and go to their money services area, you have probably seen the bluebird starter kits being sold for $5 and heavily promoted and prominently displayed. You have probably also seen their commercial on TV or online especially on YouTube. During the span of about 2 years this card has gone one to become one of the most popular prepaid cards out there due to the fact that it comes with very little fees and is convenient.
However, the true test of any prepaid card is how good their customer service is and most importantly live customer support when you want to speak to a human. This is important because there are several issues that can get very frustrating with prepaid debit cards where having great customer service will make a huge difference. For example all these cards advertise their direct deposit feature but this is where customers have the most question. For example, when is the money deposited? Another question is how long it takes to set up the process and when it begins to accept your paycheck.
Most of these companies will tell you to read their FAQ online or watch a video online to walk you through the process but that can be annoying and not everyone is technologically savvy to navigate online help resources. That is why it is important to speak to a human on the phone so you can get help right away and go about your business without spending countless amounts of time trying to find an answer to a question that a human can tell you quickly. So, when we look at American Express Bluebird Customer Service, we are trying to determine if they are living to the hype.
EBT Cards are prepaid debit cards that are usually provided by state governments in the United States of America to be used for Food Stamp recipients. So, let’s say you applied to your state and it was determined that you meet the food stamps eligibility requirements for the program and there for qualify for food stamps. Your state will then issue you a debit card, on which they will regularly pay your food stamp benefits on a monthly basis. This debit card is what is called the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card. Abuse of the card is a criminal offense. The video below shows how to check information on card:
To check the balance on your EBT card, you have three options available. First, you can call the telephone number displayed at the back of the card. Most debit cards usually have customer service numbers displayed at the back for you to reach customer service. This is also true for the EBT. Once you call the number, you will be asked to enter your card number and perhaps other unique identifiers before you will be able to get the balance information. The second method of finding out how much you have on your card is to go online to a EBT Balance Check Website to get the relevant link to get your information. The third way is to look at your last receipt, which should have the remaining balance on your card.