Food stamp trafficking is the exchange of food stamps for money. Stores qualified to accept food stamps and people qualified to receive benefits are in violation of federal law when they engage in trafficking.
In its 2013 report on the extent of food stamp trafficking, the United States Department of Agriculture estimated that $858 million in food stamps were trafficked between 2009 and 2011. The USDA also estimated that 10.5 percent of stores authorized to accept food stamps illegally trafficked benefits.
Penalties for Food Stores
Owners of food stores in violation of SNAP provisions may be subject to disqualification and civil penalties.
Stores lose their authorization to accept SNAP benefits:
- Up to 5 years for a first offense
- Up to 10 years for a second offense
- Permanently for a third offense
Stores permanently lose authorization if they trade food stamps in exchange for drugs, weapons, ammunition or explosives.
Stores may face fines up to $100,000 per fraudulent transaction.
Penalties and disqualification are up to the discretion of the Secretary of Agriculture. The Secretary may allow stores to pay fines in lieu of disqualification, and determines the amount of time a store is disqualified from accepting SNAP benefits.
Penalties for Food Stamp Recipients
Recipients of food stamps in the SNAP program who illegally use benefits lose eligibility:
- For one year as the result of a first offense
- For two years as the result of a second offense
- Permanently as the result of a third offense
Recipients who trade food stamps for drugs or alcohol lose eligibility:
- For two years as the result of a first offense
- Permanently as the result of a second offense
Recipients who trade food stamps for firearms, ammunition or explosives lose eligibility permanently as the result of a first offense.
Criminal Penalties for Trafficking Food Stamps
In addition to civil penalties, both store owners and SNAP recipients may face criminal charges for trafficking food stamps. The severity of the charges depends on the amount of benefits trafficked.
- If the benefits trafficked were $100 or less in value, the offender may be charged with a misdemeanor and subject to fines up to $1,000 and jail time of up to 1 year.
- If the benefits trafficked were more than $100 but less than $5,000, the offender may be charged with a felony and face fines up to $10,000 and jail time of up to 5 years.
- If the benefits trafficked were more than $5,000, the offender may be charged with a felony and face fines up to $250,000 and jail time of up to 20 years.