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U.S. Sen. David Vitter. (American Press Archives)<br>

U.S. Sen. David Vitter. (American Press Archives)

Vitter seeks tougher response on food stamp misuse

Last Modified: Tuesday, November 05, 2013 9:34 AM

BATON ROUGE — State leaders haven’t done enough to aggressively pursue food stamp recipients who overspent their balance when the electronic food stamp service was down last month, U.S. Sen. David Vitter said Monday.

Several Louisiana retailers, including Wal-Mart stores in Mansfield and Springhill, allowed food stamp recipients to make unlimited purchases on Oct. 12, when the electronic card system was down across many states and balances couldn’t be checked.

Vitter accused people who overspent their benefits of theft and said they should be prosecuted and ousted from the food stamp program. He urged Suzy Sonnier, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services, and Attorney General Buddy Caldwell to respond harshly to the incidents.

He sent the two state officials a letter last week, and followed up Monday with another letter saying he was disappointed with their responses to his concerns.

Both Sonnier and Caldwell have suggested they don’t have the authority to prosecute violators or strip their benefits as Vitter has suggested.

Sonnier said Monday that she’s asked the department’s lawyers to “take another look to see what else can be done to punish people for any fraud.” Sonnier asked federal officials for permission to suspend food stamp benefits for recipients determined to have knowingly overspent the balances on their food stamp debit cards when the contractor, Xerox Corp., had technical problems that shut down the system. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the food stamp program, has not issued a decision.

But Vitter said the state has the authority to disqualify and suspend anyone guilty of theft or fraud from the food stamp program without the USDA’s approval.

“So I again urge you to take such action in these cases without first asking permission unnecessarily from the Obama administration,” he wrote.

Sonnier said no taxpayer dollars were paid for the improper food stamp purchases because the retailers didn’t follow the emergency process required when the electronic debit system isn’t working. She said it was up to the retailers to determine if they wanted to seek prosecution since it was their money lost.

Vitter disagreed, saying state officials could do more and work with prosecutors in the local jurisdictions to push for charges to be filed.

In a response letter Monday, Caldwell agreed to meet with Vitter — while also reminding him that local district attorneys have jurisdiction in such types of criminal cases.

“However, my office has reached out to the affected district attorneys and offered to make our resources available to assist their offices with this matter,” Caldwell wrote.

Posted By: Jennifer B. On: 11/6/2013

Title: I seem to have a struck a nerve

re: Francis
Only someone who has absolutely no experience with food stamps could utter the phrase "Everyone who receives food stamps know their exact balance and what they can and can not buy." First off, stores delineate what items are rung up as food stamps (some store allow for bottled water, others don't, for example). Secondly, saying that "everyone knows their exact balance" is equivalent to saying everyone with a bank account knows their exact balance or everyone with an IRA knows their exact balance. Let's be realistic- people can look up their balance sure, and they more or less generally have a sense of what they have. But let's not pretend that everyone is suddenly math-machines that recall and balance every cent they have/spend.
Shame on you insinuating that buying more food than your card allowed for should result in eternal punishment. If that is the standard, then anyone who ever used a credit card or took out a loan should face the same- after all, are they not too spending money they don't have?
The extremism of these comments is flat out disturbing. What has gone so wrong in the life of people to express such vitriol for anonymous offenders?
Why are none of you crying the prosecution for his crime of soliciting prostitutes (regularly, I might add- not a one day act like these food stamp offenders)? Where is your wrath? Your tax dollars pay for his salary as they do food stamps? Can we at least have some consistency in your condemnation of criminal action?

Shame on you insinuating that buying more food than your card allowed for should result in eternal punishment. If that is the standard, then anyone who ever used a credit card or took out a loan should face the same- after all, are they not too spending money they don't have?
The extremism of these comments is flat out disturbing. What has gone so wrong in the life of people to express such vitriol for anonymous offenders?
Why are none of you crying the prosecution for his crime of soliciting prostitutes (regularly, I might add- not a one day act like these food stamp offenders)? Where is your wrath? Your tax dollars pay for his salary as they do food stamps? Can we at least have some consistency in your condemnation of criminal action?" />

Posted By: Francis On: 11/6/2013

Title: Food Stamp Fraud

Everyone who receives food stamps know their exact balance and what they can and can not buy. It is human nature to be greedy and dishonest. If some form of action is not taken, it will happen again. Shame of anyone that took advantage of the Food Stamp service. You may escape punishment here on earth but you will get your just due come Judgment Day.

Posted By: S. McCarty On: 11/5/2013

Title: Food Stamp Fraud

I agree with Vitter--they need to prosecuted and dropped from the program. Tax payers paid for their food stamps and they stole the money from the tax payers. They knew exactly what they were doing and if they are given another chance they will do it again. They broke the law and need to be punished.

Posted By: Noah Pepper On: 11/5/2013

Title: It Is Fraud and Prosecution Should Be Pursued

This is pure and simple fraud. Makes no difference who they are, they should be prosecuted to fullest extent of the law.
If a poor man can get away with theft, where do we draw the line.
Oh, I forgot, stealing from taxpayers by deception or trickery isn't theft.

Posted By: Jennifer B. On: 11/5/2013

Title: Keep Calm....

re Patti- My point, or "agenda" if you prefer, was simply to ask our representative to really think through his actions on this matter. I did not say that stealing wasn't a crime- I said that our tax dollars & political engeries are better spent on other issues than this one. I think we lend ourselves to hyperbole declaring a one-day glitch in which some people may have taken advantage (knowingly or unknowingly) of a welfare system to make a "mockery of the system." I am privileged enough to have a job that allows me to purchase food for my family, and I hold no ill-will toward my tax dollars going to help other families who are not so fortunate. I would certainly rather those funds go to buying food than to paying for an investigation (or witchhunt, in keeping with the hyperbolic nature of your rebuttal.)
In such a Chrisitan region as Louisiana, I am constantly shocked at the ire of people when it comes to assisting the less fortunate. Seriously, in this situation, what would Jesus do?

In such a Chrisitan region as Louisiana, I am constantly shocked at the ire of people when it comes to assisting the less fortunate. Seriously, in this situation, what would Jesus do? " />

Posted By: Patti On: 11/4/2013

Title: Food Stamp Fraud

It IS a form of theft when people deliberately took advantage of the system/situation and stole MORE than they are allowed to spend per month. Not sure what Jennifer's agenda is, but in my book it IS stealing OR a form of theft. NO doubt they laughed while they loaded up their buggies. Sort of makes a mockery of the people for everything they buy with hard earned money and pay taxes on purchases. If her theory were TRUE, then the people who looted during the hurricane when stores were closed and STOLE merchandise also did NOTHING wrong either........

Posted By: Patti On: 11/4/2013

Title: Food Stamp Fraud

It IS a crime when they deliberately took advantage of the situation and spent MUCH MORE than they were allowed per month. Sounds like fraud or theft to me. No doubt they laughed about it while shopping. Kind of makes a mockery out of the system AND the people who DO work for their food/purchases. Not sure what Jennifer's agenda is, but in my book it IS a form of stealing.

Posted By: Jennifer B. On: 11/4/2013

Title: War on Poverty- your tax dollars at work

A man, who runs on a "family values" platform, paid by our taxes dollars, who elicits the services of prostitutes, wants to punish welfare recipients for buying food. Seriously, we pay your salary to advocate for us, not attack the lowest among us. Please Senator, I beseech you to focus our money/your energies on something better served than a one day misuse of funds that- and I can't stress this enough- only allowed purchasers to BUY FOOD. This is no grand crime and certainly does not call for further squandering of tax revenue for investigation and/or political grandstanding.

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