(LANCASTER) – Senator Ryan Aument (R-36) and Representative Mindy Fee (R-37), along with Pennsylvania Inspector General Bruce Beemer and Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman today outlined new collaborative efforts to combat fraud and abuse in the trafficking of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”) benefits.
“Today’s announcement of a new formal collaboration between Pennsylvania’s Inspector General and the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office is great news for all those that care about protecting the integrity of public assistance programs,” said Sen. Aument. “People need to have confidence that leaders take waste, fraud and abuse in government programs and services seriously.”
Aument and Rep. Mindy Fee spearheaded a legislative effort to statutorily create the Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) in Pennsylvania. In July, 2017 Governor Wolf signed that legislation into law. The office, which was modeled on national best practices, was also given more power and authority to achieve its mission, including subpoena powers and limited law enforcement authority.
“I applaud our Inspector General and District Attorney for taking proactive steps to work together to make sure that scarce taxpayer resources are protected and that those resources make it to the truly needy,” said Rep. Fee. “This is exactly what was envisioned when we created the Office of Inspector General under Act 29 of 2017.”
Inspector General Beemer and District Attorney Stedman outlined a new Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) that was entered into by their offices that will allow for the coordination and collaboration of SNAP trafficking cases and the value this offers in addressing the abuse of this important public program.
The MOU between the OIG and District Attorney will expand OIG’s partnerships with the United States Food and Drug Administration (“USDA”), the Food and Nutrition Service (“FNS”), and the Department of Human Services (“DHS”) to combat trafficking and fraud. It combines current efforts and provides additional benefits from the unique expertise each agency has to contribute in addressing the problem, and because each office offers its services to the other without cost, all participants benefit.
Other advantages include the fact that OIG will now be able to provide the District Attorney’s Office with Electronic Benefit Transfer (“EBT”) cards for use in investigations for the first time and can jointly work undercover to target the worst offenders.
Equally important, property recovered in investigations will be donated to charity helping to recover some value for people.
Stedman expressed that he strongly believes the unique collaboration established under the MOU will have real impact on communities. “My office has had an excellent relationship with the Inspector General for years, and I personally have complete confidence in OIG’s lead on this important initiative,” said Stedman.
Beemer, whose office has been combatting the growth of SNAP trafficking statewide, acknowledged the seriousness of the problem and its connection to drugs. “Criminal merchants who traffic in food benefits deprive people who are hungry of food and inject cash into illicit market for drugs, including opioids,” he said.
“Today, we put merchants who traffic in food benefits on notice- we will identify, arrest, and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law,” warned Beemer. “The bipartisan legislation and mutually beneficial agreement we discussed here today is an example of government at its best; working earnestly toward our common aim of improving the quality of life for the people we serve.”
The Inspector General specifically thanked Senator Aument, Representative Fee, and District Attorney Stedman for the support OIG has received as a result of the new law and collaborative agreement.
Aument likewise commended Governor Wolf for recently signing Senate Bill 1127 in law. The legislation was introduced at the request of the Inspector General and increases penalties for the trafficking of SNAP benefits to more accurately reflect the seriousness of the crime.
“By working together, we can accomplish the important public priorities of holding public assistance abusers accountable, ensuring that help gets to those who need it the most, and protecting taxpayers,” said the Senator.
Rep. Fee echoed Aument’s comments.
“To me, these new laws and efforts represent what people expect and deserve of their leaders – to actively work to enact meaningful reform in how we manage our government, to promote accountability in how we value scarce taxpayer money, and to find ways to collaborate in accomplishing these important goals,” she said.