It’s bad enough that the Obama administration has shattered records by spending a mind-boggling $80.4 billion to give a record number of people free groceries, now it’s dedicating millions more to crack down on fraud that includes using social media to illegally sell and buy food stamps online.
It’s an outrageous and senseless waste of taxpayer dollars to allow a government handout program to become so bloated that it requires such a huge allocation to counter corruption. Judicial Watch has reported extensively on the fraud surrounding the government’s scandal-plagued food stamp program in the last few years. Under President Obama, the food stamp rolls are busting, with a record 50 million people getting free food from Uncle Sam.
Recipients include illegal immigrants thanks to a partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the agency that distributes food stamps, and the Mexican government. Last year JW uncovered records that show the agency has teamed up with Mexico to promote participation by illegal aliens in the U.S. food stamp program. The effort includes Spanish-language flyers at Mexican Embassies ensuring that their nationals don’t need to declare their immigration status to get financial assistance from the American government.
As a result the USDA’s grocery giveaway has been long tainted with fraud and corruption that’s been well documented in federal audits and local media reports around the country. Back in 2012 the agency’s Inspector General told Congress that many food stamp recipients use their welfare benefit to buy drugs, weapons and other contraband from unscrupulous vendors. Some trade food stamps for reduced amounts of cash, the USDA watchdog, Phyllis Fong, told federal lawmakers, estimating that the fraud had cost taxpayers nearly $200 million up to that point.
That was two years ago and the problem has only gotten worse as the rolls have expanded. So the Obama administration has decided to spend $7 million in fiscal year 2014 to crack down on food stamp fraud. The money will help states “strengthen recipient integrity activities in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP),” according to the grant announcement. A few years ago, the Obama administration renamed food stamps Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to eliminate the stigma associated with the welfare program.
The administration has coined the multi-million-dollar initiative “SNAP Trafficking Prevention Grant Program” and it will assist states across the U.S. with cash to implement process improvements designed to detect, investigate and prosecute individuals that unlawfully exchange food stamps for cash payments. Offenders can be permanently disqualified from the program or be criminally charged, according to the announcement. “Program violations may include a number of activities, such as falsifying income or identity in order to be eligible for benefits they may not be entitled to, or by using benefits for anything other than their intended purpose,” the announcement reads.
Among the anti-fraud initiatives that the money will fund are strategies to identify and successfully investigate attempts to buy or sell SNAP benefits online using social media such as Facebook, Twitter or ecommerce websites like Craigslist and eBay. This means that American taxpayers are getting fleeced, first by doling out tens of billions of dollars to supposedly feed the poor then wasting millions more to bust the “needy” selling their government benefit on Facebook and eBay.
It’s not enough that the Obama administration spends a mind-boggling $79.8 billion on food stamps, now it’s funding a special research center that will find ways to help recipients of the welfare program make healthier and wiser food choices.
It will be called the Center for Behavioral Economics and Healthy Food Choice and Uncle Sam will distribute at least $1.9 million—possibly more—to create it. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which spent an astounding $108.9 billion on food and nutrition assistance in fiscal year 2013, is doling out the cash. Food stamps account for the largest chunk of the agency’s nutritional assistance spending, which is aimed at eradicating food insecurity in the United States.
But it’s not enough to give a record number of people living in the U.S.—some illegally—free groceries, the government has a duty to ensure the food is healthy and nutritious. At least that’s the argument behind this brilliant project. “The USDA Center will facilitate new and innovative research on the application of behavioral economics theory to healthy food choice behaviors that would contribute to enhancing the nutrition, food security, and health of American consumers,” according to the agency’s grant announcement.
The focus will be on finding ways to facilitate healthy and cost-effective food choices for food-stamp recipients and those who get other types of government-subsidized meals. This is expected to be done by establishing an “innovative research program on behavioral economic and healthy food choice that addresses questions of public policy interest and importance,” according to the agency. To do this a network of social scientists will research ways to improve what poor people eat.
This goes hand in hand with Michelle Obama’s $4.5 billion measure to end obesity in low-income neighborhoods by bringing government-subsidized healthy foods to inner-city areas. Her husband’s administration dedicates millions of dollars annually to the cause and the taxpayer money keeps pouring into all sorts of outrageous projects. Just last spring the administration dole out $75 million to study ways of better recognizing the nutritional needs of low-income communities.
The enormous investment has turned out to be a huge waste of public funds, according to an academic study released earlier this year. In fact, the First Lady’s costly campaign to revolutionize the inner city diet by bringing healthier foods to low-income neighborhoods is failing miserably, the study reveals. The goal is to eliminate “food deserts,” common in poor, minority communities where fresh, healthy food is tough to find or often unavailable. Under the plan the government commits hundreds of millions of dollars annually to bring whole foods—vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean means and low-fat dairy—to underserved neighborhoods nationwide.
The study focused on Philadelphia where so-called food deserts were once rampant. Besides getting millions from Michelle Obama’s measure, the area has received generous grants from a $15 billion fund tied to her husband’s disastrous healthcare law as well as “stimulus” cash to combat obesity. The money has helped build new markets and added healthy food options to convenience stores in the city’s low-income neighborhoods. Only problem is that residents aren’t getting healthier and there has been no significant improvement in their body-mass index because they aren’t consuming the government-subsidized fruits and vegetables, according to the academic study.
The new USDA research center is supposed to find the solution to that problem. Once the social scientists figure out how to apply “behavioral economics to healthy food choice behavior” they will hold workshops, conferences and a variety of powwows to share their findings and apply them to “USDA food policy issues.” Stay tuned because another costly government study will likely be necessary to find the best ways to implement the recommendations.
The Obama administration keeps pouring huge sums of taxpayer money into the First Lady’s beloved child obesity campaign, this month allocating $10.5 million for the initiative which is part of a broader—and costly—law to revolutionize the inner-city diet.
It’s all part of an Obama family goal of eradicating obesity among children (as well as adults) in poor and minority neighborhoods and the administration has committed an astounding $4.5 billion to accomplish it. Most of the money has flowed through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the agency largely responsible for executing the First Lady’s Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Since Congress passed the measure, the government has doled out tens of millions of dollars to a number of dubious projects.
Among them is a $25 million initiative to tackle child obesity in “hard-to-reach, limited English proficiency and minority communities” and $2 million to monitor what minority public school children eat for lunch in one Texas district. Late last year the administration awarded $11 million so public schools can buy kitchen equipment to prepare healthier meals for low-income students and a $1.2 million grant to help middle school students create fitness video games known as “exergames.” American taxpayers even financed the nation’s first-ever obesity map to support the president’s ongoing effort to single out health disparities between ethnic minorities and Caucasians.
And, of course, there’s the First Lady’s scandal-plagued “Let’s Move” initiative that strives to ensure that every family has access to healthy, affordable food. In November Judicial Watch obtained government documents that show a marketing firm with close ties to the president got a plum no-bid contract of $100,000 to design the “Let’s Move” logo for Michelle Obama’s campaign. The arrangement violates federal contracting rules and is even acknowledged by federal officials as an “unauthorized commitment,” the records obtained by JW show.
As if all this weren’t bad enough, the USDA just doled out a chunk of change to conquer more childhood obesity in low-income communities. The first chunk, $5 million, is funding university research that will supposedly create childhood prevention programs. This includes $4,887,083 to a public university in Tennessee to devise a social marketing intervention to increase fruit and vegetable intake and prevent childhood obesity and $149,988 to develop a “kids-only” retail coupon study to promote healthy snack options among adolescents in convenience stores.
“USDA is at the forefront of the Obama Administration’s efforts to combat childhood obesity, which poses a threat to the health and future productivity of our entire nation,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “These grants fund critical research that will help USDA and our partners implement effective strategies to support America’s next generation so they can have a healthy childhood and develop healthy habits for life.”
On the same day, the USDA dedicated $5.5 million to provide public schools with healthy foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein and low-fat dairy. This is part of a program called “Smarter Lunchroom Strategies” that is supposed to increase consumption of healthier foods and decrease plate waste. “Strategies like Smarter Lunchrooms give schools simple, actionable, low-cost steps that help make sure that the healthy food on kids’ plates ends up in their stomachs,” Vilsack said. “These grants are part of USDA’s ongoing commitment to give states and schools the additional resources and flexibility they need as they help make the healthy choice, the easy choice for America’s young people.”
The Obama administration’s efforts to keep secret information about its scandal-plagued food-stamp program received a major blow from a federal appellate court that’s ruled the government can’t hide how much money businesses make by accepting the welfare payments.
In the last few years Judicial Watch has reported extensively on the fraud and corruption surrounding food stamps, which are administered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Food stamp rolls have grown immensely under Obama and the government spends an astounding $80.4 billion a year on the program to meet the president’s goal of eradicating “food insecure households.” A recent USDA report estimates that $858 annually are lost through fraud, especially when recipients sell their benefits for cash at a discount to food retailers.
The USDA report notes that convenience stores and small grocers account for 85% of fraud cases even though they only account for 15% of all food stamp transactions. A newspaper in Sioux Falls launched an investigation and discovered that 622 South Dakota vendors—ranging from grocery stores to gas stations—are enrolled in the food stamp program, which was renamed Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to eliminate the stigma associated with welfare.
The newspaper, the Argus Leader, requested information from the USDA on annual payments for hundreds of thousands of businesses nationwide approved by the agency to accept SNAP. As is common among large federal agencies, the USDA refused to provide the files which were requested by the paper under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The newspaper sued, a South Dakota federal judge sided with the USDA and the paper appealed to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.
The USDA argues that a statute creating the food stamp program requires businesses applying for participation to include income and sales tax information that can’t be released. The agency claims this also applies to money that retailers earn from SNAP sales once they are enrolled in the government program. In siding with the USDA, South Dakota federal Judge Karen Schreier ruled that the agency has the right to keep the information secret.
Reversing Schreier’s decision last week, the 8th Circuit rejected the USDA’s argument that the same federal provision protecting retailers’ application information from disclosure also applies to how much they are paid by the government once in the program. In fact, the appellate court agreed with the newspaper’s argument that data collected from businesses when they apply to accept food stamps doesn’t include taxpayer money they get once they are enrolled.
“The department, not any retailer, generates the information, and the underlying data is ‘obtained’ from third-party payment processors, not from individual retailers,” the three-judge panel wrote in its opinion. Besides, the appellate court points out in its ruling that “Congress has clearly indicated its intent to involve the public in counteracting fraud perpetrated by retailers participating in the program.”
There’s no doubt the USDA will spend more taxpayer dollars to appeal so it’s unlikely that the agency will make the information available anytime in the near future. In the meantime the agency responded to the federal appellate court spanking with an all too familiar “no comment.” In an e-mail to the Argus Leader the president of the Association of Health Care Journalists, also the health and science editor at a mainstream newspaper, calls SNAP a government black hole. “The secrecy involving food stamps is in a class by itself, exceeding that of any federal safety-net program.”
A convenience store charged with trafficking food stamps can’t get booted from the government program because it would crush the business since it’s located in a poor neighborhood where most clients use the welfare benefit to pay for merchandise, a federal judge has ruled.
The case, currently before a federal court in Arizona, involves a corner shop in a low-income neighborhood in northwest Phoenix. The feds have charged the owners, a husband-and-wife team, for trafficking $55 in food stamps, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to avoid any stigma associated with a government handout.
SNAP rules specifically require participating businesses—stores that accept food stamps as payment—be kicked out of the program if they are charged with any wrongdoing. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) administers the program and grants the permits to participating retailers. There is a lot of money involved. In fiscal year 2012, the last available figures, more than $74 billion in client benefits were redeemed at more than 246,000 participating stores, farmers’ markets and homeless meal providers, according to figures listed in the USDA’s annual report.
In the Phoenix case prosecutors, as per federal law, quickly moved to eject the convenience store from the government’s SNAP program after charging the owners with fraud. The owners took legal action to stop it, claiming that their business depends on food stamps for survival. They say their little store, called Bubba’s Drive Thru, would go under without food stamps because the majority of their clients use them to pay. In fact, most of the people who live in the area get some kind of government assistance, the criminally charged merchants revealed in federal court.
The federal judge hearing the case, David Campbell, was sympathetic and blocked the government from dropping Bubba’s Drive Thru from the SNAP roster this month. That means that, despite being criminally charged they get the opportunity to fleece more American taxpayers via the bloated food stamp program. That’s because Judge Campbell has determined the accused criminals’ “livelihood” will be negatively affected if the government stops the cash flow.
“As noted, Plaintiffs assert without contradiction that they will be out of business within a matter of weeks,” Judge Campbell wrote in his order. “Thus, if their disqualification takes effect immediately as provided in Defendants (the government) procedures, with no possibility of a stay, Plaintiffs will have been permanently deprived of their business and livelihood….”
It gets better. The judge downplayed the fraud as “only $55 of SNAP trafficking violations in the last five years.” He also acknowledged that “public interest normally would favor an honest and effectively enforced SNAP program” but says in the order that the case’s “unique facts” have led him to conclude that “the public interest would not be served by permanently shutting down” Bubba’s Drive Thru.
This absurd case is part of a bigger problem involving the government’s food-stamp program, which has grown immensely under President Obama. A record 48 million people—and growing—get free groceries from the government and the administration operates an aggressive promotion campaign to recruit even more recipients. It’s all part of Obama’s commitment to eradicate what he says is a national epidemic of “food insecure” households. Like all out-of-control government programs, this one has been plagued by fraud and corruption, forcing one U.S. senator to take action calling for an end to the madness.
A marketing firm with close ties to the president got a plum no-bid contract for $100,000 to design the “Let’s Move” logo for Michelle Obama’s childhood obesity campaign, according to government documents obtained by Judicial Watch.
The arrangement violates federal contracting rules and is even acknowledged by federal officials as an “unauthorized commitment,” the records obtained by JW show. As a result the agency that illegally awarded the contract, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), prepared a “request for ratification of an unauthorized commitment” to legitimize the expenditure. The justification provided to JW as part of the records is that the program was too important and time-sensitive for the official who awarded the no-bid deal to research the rules.
In all, JW obtained 44 pages of documents from the USDA, the agency largely in charge of distributing funds for the First Lady’s $4.5 billion measure (Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act) to revolutionize the inner-city diet and conquer childhood obesity. Among the documents is a scathing electronic mail exchange between the USDA Deputy Director (Jodey Edwards) in the Office of Procurement & Property Management and an agency administrative officer named Yvette Ward. Edwards asks “What did we get for our money … any deliverable? I know this is an unauthorized commitment: however the contractor still must provide evidence of what is being paid for …”
The firm that raked in the cash is Shepardson, Stern & Kaminsky (SS+K), which had previously served as the official agency for Obama for America’s youth initiatives in both 2008 and 2012. SS+K also received a sweet $2 million deal from the Obama Department of Education for the “TEACH” teacher recruitment campaign in 2010. Before the Obama administration started doling out money to the little-known firm, it had landed only one government contract—awarded in 2002 by the Department of Defense—worth $50,000.
The SS+K team that worked on “Let’s Move” consisted of the following: Robert Shepardson a partner in the firm who previously led SS+K’s work on Obama political campaigns; Marty Cooke, who is no longer with SS+K but served as creative director during Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign; Rebecca Matovic, a partner who also did work for the Gates Foundation, the Environmental Defense Fund, George Soros’ Open Society Foundation, and the governments of Bolivia and Colombia.
The USDA official who inappropriately authorized the no-bid “Let’s Move” slogan deal appears to have been a political appointee named David Lazarus, the records obtained by JW show. Lazarus is a former senior advisor to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack who previously served as National Rural Vote Deputy Director for Obama for America and as an advisor to the Obama-Biden transition team.
Not surprisingly, no significant action was taken against the parties responsible for the violation. Senior procurement officials simply spoke with the offender to “explain the procurement process,” according to the records. Training on procurement rules was subsequently provided to all senior advisors, the files further reveal, adding this: “The Senior Procurement Executive had intended to provide this seminar as part of the training that was given to new incoming political appointees at the start of the administration, but thought administrative oversight this wasn’t done.”
“Let’s Move” is described as “America’s move to raise a healthier generation of kids,” a comprehensive initiative launched by the First Lady dedicated to solving the challenge of childhood obesity. The goal is to solve this crisis within a generation, according to the “Let’s Move” website, by among other things, ensuring that every family has access to healthy, affordable food. Looking at the website and the slogan that cost U.S. taxpayers $100,000, it’s difficult to see the “time-sensitive” importance that could justify a no-bid contract.