Senate approves measure to create penalties for food stamp fraud

MADISON (WITI) -- Prosecutors will soon get the tools they need to crack down on food stamp trafficking in Wisconsin.

On Tuesday, May 7th, the Wisconsin State Senate approved a measure which will create penalties for trafficking of benefits meant to help people purchase food. The measure now heads to Governor Walker for final approval. The author of the bill, State Senator Alberta Darling (R - River Hills), says the legislation will help make sure funds are there for people who really need the benefits.

"This bill helps clear up any uncertainty in the law and tells both taxpayers and recipients that we are careful with the money taxpayers provide and we will not tolerate abuse of our already generous benefits," Darling said, "When criminals see that Wisconsin is serious about prosecuting these crimes, there should be fewer people trying to sell their cards and fewer vendors exploiting them."

Assembly Bill 82 adds trafficking benefits to the list of welfare benefit offenses that are subject to penalties under current law. Under the bill, a person traffics benefits if they do any of the following:

• Buy, sell, steal, or otherwise exchange benefits issued and accessed through the electronic benefit transfer program, or manually, for cash or other consideration.
• Exchanges firearms, ammunition, explosives, or controlled substances for benefits.
• Use benefits to purchase food that has a container deposit for the sole purpose of returning the container for a cash refund.
• Resell food purchased with benefits for cash or other consideration.
• Purchase, for cash or other consideration, food that was previously purchased from a supplier using their benefits.
Depending on the value being trafficked, a person could face up to $25,000 in fines and be sentenced to jail for up to 10 years. Darling says the bill adds real penalties for real crimes.

"We are creating substantial penalties, because trafficking is a substantial crime. It hurts taxpayers and those who truly need these benefits," Darling said, "Hopefully, these penalties will decrease fraud and save tax dollars."

The Senate approved Assembly Bill 82 on a bi-partisan vote of 28-5.

Senator Darling represents portions of Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington, and Waukesha counties.