Following reports of stolen food benefits in different states totaling millions of dollars over the past year, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants from all 53 states and territories will soon be eligible to receive their refunds for benefits theft.
A spokesperson from the U.S. Department of Agriculture told MarketWatch that the Food and Nutrition Services received submissions of state plans for reimbursement of stolen benefits from all 53 state SNAP agencies before Feb. 27, the deadline USDA gave each state to be considered eligible to refund consumers who had their benefits stolen.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act, also known as the omnibus spending bill — which was signed into law by President Joe Biden in December — allows each state to use federal money to reimburse SNAP recipients who lost benefits to theft. First, however, states were required to submit their plans for how those funds would be reimbursed before Feb. 27 to be considered eligible.
Over the past year, there has been an increasing number of reports of theft involving electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards by participants in both SNAP and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Often, SNAP users only find out their benefits have been stolen when they attempt to use their EBT cards.
In New York state alone, 2,208 low-income SNAP recipients were the victims of benefit theft in August 2022, according to the Legal Aid Society and Empire Justice Center in Albany, N.Y. The two organizations sent a letter to the USDA last August asking for skimming-related policy changes and compensation for the stolen amounts.
In Massachusetts, stolen benefits surpassed $1.6 million for more than 5,000 households from June 2022 to November 2022, according to the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance through, as reported by the Boston Globe.
A family of three earning less than $2,495 a month gets $577 in SNAP benefits on average per month for the fiscal year 2023, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. To qualify for SNAP benefits, households must have a gross monthly income of less than 130% of the federal poverty line. During the pandemic, the SNAP emergency allotments allowed all participants to get an extra $95 on top of maximizing their monthly benefits. The emergency allotments ended at the end of February.
EBT theft usually happens at cash machines or at grocery store checkout devices through a technique called skimming: criminals place magnetic strips and hidden cameras on PIN pads or point-of-sale machines to steal consumer data and money from credit, debit, and EBT cards. Card skimmers often look like a normal part of the machine.
EBT cards don’t have the same type of security features as commercial debit or credit cards. SNAP recipients also have fewer legal protections. Until last year, most states did not give refunds for stolen benefits because the USDA did not allow states to use federal funds to reimburse participants. A few states, including California, opted to reimburse victims on their own.
The dates for the implementation of the reimbursement plans, and the timelines for program participants to receive compensation, will vary by state, according to the USDA. FNS will review and approve state plans for implementation, which will remain in effect until FNS publishes its regulations, a USDA spokesperson said in an email to MarketWatch.