Food Stamp Fraud

7 U.S. Code § 2024 - Food Stamp Fraud

Government assistance for low-income people and families helps them get the food that they need for a nutritional diet. This type of assistance is typically operated through the federal food stamp program, renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in 2008.

The United States Department of Agriculture administers the SNAP program, and state and local agencies distribute the benefits. Since SNAP is a federal program, the fraudulent use or acquisition of the benefits can lead to federal criminal charges under 7 U.S. Code 2024.

7 U.S. Code § 2024 - Food Stamp Fraud
It's a crime to use unauthorized Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

There are different ways to commit food stamp fraud (SNAP fraud), such as exchanging SNAP benefits for cash, lying on a SNAP application to get help, or getting more than you are entitled to receive.

Another way to commit SNAP fraud is when a retailer has been disqualified from the program for past abuse and then lies on an application to get into the program again.

Simply put, 7 U.S. Code 2024 makes it a crime to knowingly use, transfer, acquire, alter, or possess benefits that violate the SNAP program. It's also illegal to deliberately present SNAP benefits for payment or redemption when they were received, transferred, or used in violation of the SNAP program.

Most people receiving food stamps use the benefits for their intended purpose. However, a black market exists for the electronic benefit transfer (EBT cards) issued to recipients. The cards are limited to use at specific participating stores, and the money on them can only be used to buy approved items.  

Some people who receive food stamps sell their benefit cards to someone for cash and face criminal charges for food stamp fraud.

What Does the Federal Law Say?

7 U.S.C. 2024(b)(1) says, “Subject to the provisions of paragraph (2) of this subsection, whoever knowingly uses, transfers, acquires, alters, or possesses benefits in any manner contrary to this chapter or the regulations, shall, if benefits are of a value of $5,000 or more, be guilty of a felony…. if such benefits are of a value of $100 or more, but less than $5,000, or if the item used, transferred, acquired, altered, or possessed is a benefit that has a value of $100 or more, be guilty of a felony… if such benefits are of a value of less than $100, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor…."

Section 2024(c) says, “Whoever presents, or causes to be presented, benefits for payment or redemption of the value of $100 or more, knowing the same to have been received, transferred, or used in any manner in violation of the provisions of this chapter or the regulations issued under this chapter, shall be….

SNAP Fraud – Quick Facts

Let's review several facts about 7 U.S. Code 2024 violations and enforcement related to SNAP fraud, such as the following:

  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) was established to help impoverished people and families get much-needed food.
  • Attempts to exploit the SNAP program (food stamp fraud), misappropriates taxpayer money, and hurts needy people.
  • Since SNAP benefits are managed through a federal government agency, it's a federal offense.
  • Food stamp fraud can be charged as a federal crime with fines, jail, restitution, and forfeiture of property to reimburse the government.
  • Title 7 U.S.C. 2024 makes it a crime to knowingly use or transfer SNAP benefits in a manner that is not authorized.
  • Selling SNAP benefits for cash is illegal and called “trafficking.”
  • Using someone's SNAP benefits without permission is illegal.
  • Providing false information on a SNAP application is also illegal.
  • Underreporting income or assets to receive more benefits than one is entitled to is a common way to commit food stamp fraud.
  • It's also a federal crime to present SNAP benefits for redemption while knowing they were obtained unlawfully.
  • The term “knowingly” means the person was aware that their actions were contrary to the regulations of the SNAP program.
  • Unintentional errors or mistakes are not considered fraud under the law.

What Are the Related Federal Statutes?

7 U.S. Code Chapter 51 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program has numerous federal laws related to 7 U.S.C. 2024 food stamp fraud, such as:

  • 7 U.S.C. 2011 - Congressional declaration of policy;
  • 7 U.S.C. 2012 – Definitions;
  • 7 U.S.C. 2012a - Publicly operated community health centers;
  • 7 U.S.C. 2013 - Establishment of supplemental nutrition assistance program;
  • 7 U.S.C. 2014 - Eligible households;
  • 7 U.S.C. 2014a - Notice of change in state of residence of household;
  • 7 U.S.C. 2015 - Eligibility disqualifications;
  • 7 U.S.C. 2016 - Issuance and use of program benefits;
  • 7 U.S.C. 2016a - EBT benefits fraud prevention;
  • 7 U.S.C. 2017 - Value of allotment;
  • 7 U.S.C. 2018 - Approval of retail food stores and wholesale food concerns;
  • 7 U.S.C. 2019 - Redemption of program benefits;
  • 7 U.S.C. 2020 – Administration;
  • 7 U.S.C. 2021 - Civil penalties and disqualification of retail food stores and wholesale food concerns;
  • 7 U.S.C. 2022 - Disposition of claims;
  • 7 U.S.C. 2023 - Administrative and judicial review; restore rights;
  • 7 U.S.C. 2024 - Violations and enforcement;
  • 7 U.S.C. 2025 - Administrative cost-sharing and quality control;
  • 7 U.S.C. 2026 - Research, demonstration, and evaluations;
  • 7 U.S.C. 2026a - Healthy fluid milk incentives projects;
  • 7 U.S.C. 2027 - Appropriations and allotments;
  • 7 U.S.C. 2028 - Block grants for Puerto Rico and American Samoa;
  • 7 U.S.C. 2029 – Workfare;
  • 7 U.S.C. 2031 - Minnesota Family Investment Project;
  • 7 U.S.C. 2032 - Automated data processing and retrieval systems;
  • 7 U.S.C. 2034 - Assistance for community food projects;
  • 7 U.S.C. 2035 - Simplified supplemental nutrition assistance program;
  • 7 U.S.C. 2036 - Commodities for emergency food assistance program;
  • 7 U.S.C. 2036a - Nutrition education and obesity prevention grant program;
  • 7 U.S.C. 2036b - Retail food store and recipient trafficking;
  • 7 U.S.C. 2036c - Annual State report on verification of SNAP participation
  • 7 U.S.C. 2036d - Pilot projects to encourage the use of public-private partnerships committed to addressing food insecurity

What Are the 7 U.S.C. 2024 Penalties?

Suppose you are convicted of violating Title 7 U.S.C. 2024. In that case, there are a wide range of penalties depending on the type of offense and the total dollar value of the alleged fraud, such as the following:

For unlawful acquisition, transfer, or use of SNAP benefits:

  • If the value is under $100, it's a misdemeanor, and the penalties are a $1000 fine and up to one year in prison.
  • If the value is between $100 and $5,000, the penalties are a $10,000 fine and up to five years in prison.
  • If the value exceeds $5,000, the penalties are up to a $250,000 fine and up to 20 years in prison.
  • Most penalties for food stamp fraud involve administrative fines, but criminal charges are possible.

For unlawful redemption:

  • If the value is under $100, a $1000 fine and up to one year in prison;
  • If the value exceeds $1000, a $20,000 fine and up to five years in prison.
  • You might face forfeiture of any non-monetary property involved in the fraud, such as the items traded in exchange for fraudulent benefits.

As an alternative to fines and imprisonment, the courts might allow someone convicted of food stamp fraud to work off their obligation with court-approved work until the restitution is paid. Under this type of agreement, the court will suspend their sentence.

To be convicted of food stamp fraud, the federal prosecutor must prove you had fraudulent intent, meaning you knew you were committing fraud.  

Maybe we can argue there were accidental omissions that should not be considered fraudulent intent. Perhaps we can show that you didn't understand all the legal statutes for getting assistance.

Maybe our federal criminal defense lawyers can argue for your case to be diverted from the courts into a program focusing on restitution.  However, you would still be ordered to pay back your benefits and be disqualified from the program. Contact the Hedding Law Firm for a free case review. We are located in Los Angeles, CA.

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