The federal food stamp program is too valuable to millions of needy Americans — and under enough fire from House Republicans — that the last thing it needs is to be undermined by a large-scale fraud operation like the one alleged to have been committed by the owners of a Schenectady grocery.
We’ll give credit to federal and local authorities who busted them last week for buying food stamps from customers for 50 cents on the dollar, transactions that were illegal because no food was involved. The customers, too, deserve to be arrested for scamming the system, which is designed to provide food (and nothing but) for low- to moderate-income people.
Our only question is, why did it take so long?
If, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture website indicates, the food stamp program’s benefit card system is equipped to detect suspicious activity, why did it take three years and half a million dollars of illegal activity to trigger an investigation and bring the fraud to an end? Last Friday’s Gazette story indicates that a store the size of the Cheese Bakery and Grocery is expected to do between $5,000 and $8,000 worth of food stamp business per month. When it’s doing 10 times as much (as it apparently was for the past several months), that’s got to be a good indication something fishy is going on.
Yet the investigation that culminated in the arrest of three store owners and one worker, and 21 food stamp recipients, went on for six months. Wrapping it up earlier may have resulted in fewer recipients being caught in the web, but putting the principals out of business should have been the primary objective, and it would seem that could have been accomplished sooner.