This is an expensive solution to a virtually non-existent problem. Spending millions to create photo ID cards will not prevent large-scale fraud through food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Instead, it will likely lead to added confusion by retailers. These millions could be better spent educating Georgia’s citizens.
Department officials requested the $7.8 million to implement one of the requirements of HB 772, a bill passed by the 2014 General Assembly to require drug tests for food stamp and welfare recipients at their own expense if state workers suspect them of drug use. Gov. Nathan Deal signed the bill, but put the food stamp drug testing requirements on hold after the state attorney general advised implementing those could cost Georgia federal food stamp money.
The portion of the misguided bill that requires a photo on the benefits card, however, is gaining traction. It says a photo of one or more authorized members of a household must appear on each food stamp benefit card. This requirement is set to take effect Jan. 1, 2016. The $7.8 million department request just pays for the first year to get the photo ID system up and running.
Lawmakers who pushed for the photo ID argue it’s necessary to prevent fraud. That doesn’t square with the facts.
First, food stamp fraud is not a rampant problem. Less than 1 percent of food stamp benefits are sold for cash.
Photo IDs on food stamp cards also do not prevent the kind of fraud you see in the headlines from time to time. A recipient committing food stamp fraud by converting benefits into cash is probably working with a corrupt store owner. A federal indictment for food stamp fraud handed down in Savannah this summer describes just such an arrangement. Corrupt store owners won’t be deterred by a photo on the food stamp card.
Asking cashiers to keep track of people using photos on food stamp cards will cause confusion for retailers. Federal law says that seniors, people with disabilities and other recipients who have trouble getting to the store are allowed to designate someone outside their household to shop for them. How will cashiers be sure they’re complying with both state and federal law when caregivers’ faces don’t match the photos on the food stamp cards?
For $7.8 million the state could educate more of its people by offering financial assistance for higher education. Georgia could ensure that hundreds of its citizens received a technical college credential with that amount of money.
Redirecting the $7.8 million to education carries two benefits. It could increase Georgia’s trained workforce, while reducing the number of people who will need food assistance in the future. And it would pull the plug on a wrong-headed effort to create food stamp IDs that won’t deter fraud, but will create confusion at the cash register and flush millions of dollars down the drain.