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Wisconsin's FoodShare program the focus of fraud concerns

In Wisconsin, crimes known as white collar crimes often carry with them serious penalties. These crimes can include identity theft, credit card fraud, and even extortion. But recently, state authorities are dealing with a different kind of fraud: FoodShare fraud.

In fact, in the past few months several people have been charged with public assistance fraud in Brown County. One woman charged had been hiding the fact that her boyfriend lived with her; his income was enough to decrease the amount of FoodShare assistance she received. But this case and others are the reason why concerns have been raised about the public assistance program.

The Wisconsin FoodShare program has replaced food stamps as a way to cut down on fraud, but state authorities fear that people are still fraudulently using the cards provided by the program. Since 2000, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services reports a 300 percent increase in FoodShare participation with more than 800,000 people now using Quest Cards to purchase food.

Although the federal government pays for FoodShare, Wisconsin's state and counties administer it. One of the indicators that the Quest Cards are being abused is the number of replacement cards issued. Federal laws demand that those who report missing cards get immediate replacement, even without verification of the recipients' claims.

Suspicious activity in the FoodShare program isn't always hidden. Quest Card holders have been reported approaching supermarket shoppers and offering to pay for their groceries in exchange for quick cash. Others commit fraud by hiding income or living situations in order to qualify or remain qualified in the program.

FoodShare administrators admit that food-assistance fraud is hard to track and that they are seeking solutions. The state is increasing efforts to detect fraud early on when people first sign up for Quest Cards. Some believe that one way to decrease fraudulent activity is to require a showing of identification when the card is being used.

Though solutions have not been reached, those who are caught defrauding the system can expect to be prosecuted.

Source: Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel online, "Fraud taints state's FoodShare program," 23 April 2011

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