CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Delegate Jill Upson, R-Jefferson, said today a recent report from the state Department of Health and Human Resources raises concerns about out-of-state spending of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits.
In December, Upson asked DHHR Secretary Karen Bowling and her staff for a report detailing out-of-state transactions and spending by recipients of those benefits.
“I have been working since the summer on welfare reform issues to ensure the dollars available through public assistance programs are going to those who need them most,” Upson said. “As a representative of a border county, I was also interested in finding out what amount of these benefits provided to state residents was being spent out of state.”
The report found that, between Nov. 1, 2014, and Oct. 31, 2015, that more than $52.5 million of the $457.2 million of SNAP benefits provided during that time frame – roughly 11.5 percent, or 1,250,891 transactions – were spent out of state. With regard to TANF benefits, nearly $2.2 million, of the nearly $29.5 million in benefits provided, or 7.3 percent, were out spent out of state.
While the large majority of that out-of-state spending occurred in states bordering West Virginia – including roughly 90 percent of SNAP benefits – the report also found significant amounts of money spent in states and territories far away from West Virginia.
The report found more than $1 million of SNAP benefits were spent in Florida (27,347 transactions), $1 million in North Carolina (32,870 transactions) and more than $580,000 spent in South Carolina (17,250 transactions). Even smaller, but notable, amounts were spent in other far off locations, including $85,614.44 in California (2,803 transactions); $3,410.05 in Hawaii (146 transactions) and $1,695.25 in the U.S. Virgin Islands (33 transactions).
U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service rules mandate nationwide interoperability and portability of electronically-issued food stamp benefits, so state lawmakers cannot ban out-of-state spending of these benefits. However, Upson said the data could be beneficial in other ways.
“This report raises red flags that might help us identify possible waste, fraud or abuse of these benefits,” Upson said. “While it’s understandable that large amounts of money may be spent in our border states, the fact that so much money is spent in far-off and popular vacation destinations is concerning.”
Upson is the lead sponsor of House Bill 4454, the Welfare Fraud Prevention Act, which was introduced Tuesday. Also co-sponsoring the bill are Delegates Paul Espinosa (R-Jefferson), Anna Border-Sheppard (R-Wood), John Shott (R-Mercer), Eric Householder (R-Berkeley), John O'Neal (R-Raleigh), Saira Blair (R-Berkeley), Pat McGeehan (R-Hancock), Michael Ihle (R-Jackson), Brian Kurcaba (R-Monongalia) and Joe Statler (R-Monongalia).
“I want to thank Secretary Bowling and DHHR for their assistance in gathering this data and helping us get a better picture of how these benefits are spent,” Upson said. “We need to make sure DHHR has all the tools it needs to meet the needs of West Virginians as well as root out potential abuses of the system.”