Penalties For Food Stamp Fraud

Written by J. Hirby and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

When a family is having difficulty making ends meet, they often seek food stamps. The amount of food stamps given depends upon the family's situation. A household with more dependents and less income is generally entitled to a larger food stamp allowance. When someone intentionally provides misleading information about the size of their household or the amount of their income on an application for food stamps, they may be guilty of food stamp fraud.

Agency Investigation

The government agency responsible for dispensation of food stamps may conduct an investigation if they receive information or suspect that someone is committing food stamp fraud. The investigation may include visits to the home of the family who is receiving assistance. It may also involve interviews with family and neighbors who can attest to the size of the household and any income sources.

Legal Action

If the agency believes that food stamp fraud has been committed, then they have several steps available to them. The first of these is a disqualification hearing. During the hearing, the agency must prove that the individual intended to commit fraud. If they are successful at doing so, the person who wrongfully received food stamp assistance may become ineligible for such help for a specified period of time. Moreover, they may be required to repay any amounts received in excess of their rightful entitlement.

It is also possible for the agency to pursue criminal charges at the misdemeanor or felony level. The ability to file criminal charges, and the penalties enforced, vary considerably between counties and states. Nonetheless, individuals who commit food stamp fraud may find themselves facing up to one year in jail and a substantial fine. For subsequent offenses, or for food stamp fraud involving larger dollar amounts, the accused may be facing up to five years in prison, several years of probation or an even bigger fine.

Avoiding Legal Action

The individual who would rather avoid both a hearing and a possible criminal charge may elect to waive the disqualification hearing. By doing so, the person is giving up benefits for a predetermined time period, and may also be required to pay back the overage they received. In these situations, it is typically best not to admit any wrongdoing, as this may leave the individual open for criminal prosecution. The advice of an attorney may be helpful when it comes to deciding which approach to take.

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