House committee members are scheduled to hear further testimony today on a piece of legislation that would require photo identification added to Ohio Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, debit cards.
Prompted by an audit of the state’s program that assists low-income Ohioans with the purchase of food items, House Bill 50 is directed at stanching the federally reported $125 million in fraudulent activity that saps the $2.5 billion program serving 1.6 million state residents.
“The purpose of the bill is to protect the integrity of the SNAP program, deter trafficking in cards for drugs and other illegal activity and preserve the precious funds for those in need,” Republican Rep. Tim Schaffer of Lancaster told members of the House Community and Family Advancement Committee. “This is a benefits protection bill, designed to protect those who need help.”
He assured fellow lawmakers that adding photos to Ohio’s electronic benefits transfer SNAP cards simply would make the state’s program stronger, safeguarding the benefits of those legally entitled to them and rely on them and helping deter and detect crime associated with the sale or trade of cards for cash or drugs.
Additionally, the bill would require that the back of a SNAP debit card include information about how to report suspected SNAP fraud.
The new card requirements would take effect six months after the bill’s passage to law, while pre-existing SNAP cards would be replaced within a 12-month period after enactment.
Exempt from the new requirements are households that do not include any adults or households in which adults are 60 years of age or older, blind, disabled, or victims of domestic violence or they have religious objections to being photographed.
Schaffer, sponsor of the measure, laid out for fellow House members a few details of state Auditor Dave Yost’s findings. The numerous “weaknesses and anomalies” indicating potential fraud included:
- Numerous high fraud risk retailers and recipients;
- Balances exceeding the minimum $1,169 per month for a family of eight, totaling $1.2 million, with a single account topping a balance of $20,000;
- Unusual activity, such as frequent transactions of the same amount, frequent manual card entry, even-dollar transactions, repeated replacement of lost or stolen cards, consecutive transactions in a one hour period and excessive attempts to enter a PIN number;
- Deceased recipients receiving $24,406 in benefits more than a year after death; and
- Out-of-state spending in an amount exceeding $28.7 million by 118,316 recipients.
Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, a Youngstown Democrat, has challenged the bill and the determinations based on the state audit.
“In attempting to combat potential fraud within the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, HB 50 fails to follow the recommendations detailed within the auditor’s own SNAP audit,” Lepore-Hagan said. “Ohio’s weak economy over the last six years has left many families and working poor struggling to make ends meet and put food on the table each night.
“Instead of unfairly targeting vulnerable Ohioans, lawmakers should focus on creating good jobs that pay a wage that can sustain a family.”
She said she believes the effort to get a million-plus benefit recipients would be a task of Herculean proportions.
“Throwing up procedural hurdles like photo ID requirements will increase program costs and potentially discourage the participation of vulnerable Ohioans who rely on the program to help feed their families,” she said.
“No one loses benefits,” Schaffer countered. “No one suffers a delay in benefits.
“This bill will feed those in need, not drug habits. SNAP is an important safety net for those in Ohio who have fallen on rough times. And I believe that a majority of individuals enrolled in the program need the benefits. As lawmakers, we have a responsibility to assure program integrity.”
The effort would come at considerable cost, though a fraction of the amount of fraudulent activity. The Ohio Legislative Service Commission found the state would encumber one-time costs of $1.5 million to $2 million and ongoing annual costs of $1 million to $3 million, of which 50 percent would be reimbursed by the federal government.
The commission’s fiscal analysis is based on other states’ experiences or studies of the costs of requiring photographs on SNAP cards.
Schaffer is hopeful the bill also would reassure the public that the government is making efforts to protect the integrity of the program.
“Not a single person who currently qualifies will lose their benefits as a result of this reform,” he said. “Not one.
“Placing photo identification on SNAP cards will not solve all vulnerabilities of the program. But it will act as a deterrent for those who try to steal benefits from Ohio’s most vulnerable population.”
The committee was scheduled to hear all testimony during today’s hearing — the fourth since the bill’s introduction in early February.
HB 50 is co-sponsored by more than a dozen House members.