U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, which oversees the federal food assistance program, today announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is awarding Michigan $3.3 million for its past work to stop errors in state-administered parts of the food assistance program and called on the State of Michigan to use these funds to strengthen enforcement efforts.
Michigan will receive the additional federal funding as a reward for making improvements during the 2010 fiscal year in stopping payment errors. While the state is allowed to use these funds for other purposes, Senator Stabenow said they should be used to further strengthen enforcement in the food assistance program.
"It's outrageous when people cheat and defraud something as important as food assistance," said Sen. Stabenow. "So many Michigan families never imagined a day when they would need to depend on these services to feed their children and families. Fraud and abuse cannot be tolerated."
Senator Stabenow also called for a continued federal crackdown on fraud and abuse. Stabenow said she supports strengthening USDA fraud detection efforts and tougher penalties on businesses and individuals attempting to defraud the system. Stabenow and the full Agriculture committee will examine policies to cut down on waste, fraud, and abuse next week during a hearing she has convened on oversight and accountability in agriculture programs.
Major changes to detect and punish fraud within the food assistance program were put in place in the 2008 Farm Bill and subsequent legislation, which Senator Stabenow helped craft. Some of those measures, including greater electronic record-keeping, provided information which helped contribute to a bust last week at a Lansing convenience store that led to indictments against five people, including the store's owners.
After the new record-keeping technology helped federal officials notice an ongoing pattern of unusual behavior at Lansing's J&K General Store, authorities opened a formal investigation in conjunction with the Lansing Police Department that turned up nearly half a million dollars in alleged fraud in one of the worst food assistance abuse cases Michigan has ever seen.
Yesterday the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of the Inspector General (USDA OIG) issued a report detailing its fraud prevention efforts in programs under its jurisdiction, including food assistance programs. USDA OIG's report shows that in the last six months it has conducted successful investigations and audits that led to 516 arrests, 249 convictions, $47.8 million in recoveries and restitutions, 114 program improvement recommendations, and $11.1 million in financial recommendations across all initiatives under USDA purview, including 80 convictions and $7.9 million in monetary results in food assistance programs.
Senator Stabenow said this report is further evidence that strengthened enforcement measures are working and that even stronger efforts are needed.
The Agriculture Committee's hearing on accountability will examine all areas in the committee's jurisdiction, including food assistance programs. The hearing will be held Thursday, June 23 at 9:30 a.m. in room G50 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. The hearing will focus on measuring the performance of every agriculture program, fighting fraud, eliminating duplication and waste, and cutting red tape for farmers. A live, streaming webcast of the hearing will be available for viewing on the Committee website at http://ag.senate.gov.