ABC11 Investigates

Mom points out food stamp waste

Monday, July 08, 2013

A Wake County mother tipped off the ABC11 I-Team to a problem with the food stamp program that she calls a waste of taxpayer money.

She told us she was able to continue getting assistance, even when she didn't qualify for it. The woman asked not to be identified. We're calling her "Jackie."

"There's a lot of loopholes. If you are not honest, you can live for free," she said.

While she was unemployed last fall, Jackie now has a job.

"I'm working. I'm making good money, and yet the county is telling me I can keep their food stamp money. Is that legal? Is that fraud?" she asked.

Jackie's story begins last November when she lost her job.

"I was just in a rut. I had no income, no savings," she said.

So the Wake County mother applied for food stamps.

"I have a child living in the house, so I needed some assistance," she said.

For nearly six months, she and her daughter received $151 dollars in food stamps every month. But in May, Jackie got a new job as an administrative assistant.

"I was thrilled," she said. "So, I knew I had to call to let them know that I was working."

So, she called and emailed her case worker.

"I never got any email back. I tried calling, but you can never get to the case worker," said Jackie.

Three weeks after she began alerting Wake County that she no longer needed food stamps, she got an email from her case worker. It said the county would look at her new income at her next recertification for food stamps - in November. That means she'd be getting government money for six more months, even though she didn't qualify for it.

And, they wouldn't just take her word for it. She needed to verify her income to prove she was ineligible for food stamps.

"I mean are they trying to tell me that if I try to apply for food stamps, with like a $25 an hour job, the next day I can still be certified for six months?" she asked.

Jackie persisted with email after email explaining she knew under the government guidelines the new salary made her ineligible, and asked that her case be closed.

"At the beginning of June was when EBT - my food stamp debit card - would be replenished. And I called on June 3, there's money in my card again, and I'm like they didn't close up my case," she said.

Liz Scott is in charge of the food stamp program in Wake County.

"It's possible that there are going to be situations that people may get benefits that they are not entitled to, because of a delay and the processing," said Scott.

Scott said Jackie's caseworker followed government policy.

"We have specific rules about when we can take action to reduce or terminate benefits, and so many days of advanced notice has to be given. And she absolutely did the right thing in reporting," said Scott.

But Jackie didn't give up. She did not want taxpayer money that she wasn't supposed to get. She sent one more email asking the county to close her case.

Finally, it said it would, but she could still keep the food stamps for June of $151.

"It really is crazy because the government is trying to cut all these expenses, Medicaid, education and things that really should be looked at and taken care of wisely," said Jackie.

But Jackie said she believes the government is ignoring an easy way to save money and she's angry that people are getting government benefits they don't deserve.

"That's a big loophole that we are using, and I just don't feel right about that," she offered.

This case may've fallen through the cracks. But, Wake County says under a new computer program which went into effect June 1, food stamp recipients who report a change in their income will be dealt with immediately and will not have to wait until they meet with a case worker.

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