SANTA FE (KRQE) – State lawmakers want to crack down on people who are stealing from taxpayers through one of the most utilized welfare services. A new bill gaining support in the New Mexico Legislature would make it easier to charge suspects of food stamp fraud. The bill would let investigators total up a year’s worth of fraud allegations into one case.
New Mexico state officials say food stamp fraud costs the state more than $800,000 a year.
“Maybe they’ll get, get $100 loaded on to their card and they want to sell it for $50 quick cash,” said Matt Kennicott, a spokesman for the state Human Services Department.
A Republican State Representative from Albuquerque, Monica Youngblood is behind the bill. It just passed the state House of Representatives with 59 votes for and only four votes against.
Currently, the state’s five food stamp investigators have to charge each individual EBT card or WIC check fraud case on its own. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, on average, New Mexico’s food stamp users get about $128 worth of benefits each month. That means in many cases, suspects don’t commit more than $500 worth of fraud and are therefore charged with a misdemeanor.
Under House Bill 43, investigators would be allowed to add up the total dollar amount of fraud committed by one person in an entire year.
Under current law, if the fraud is worth more than $500, a person can be charged with a fourth-degree felony. That could bring up to $5,000 dollars in fines and up to a year and half in prison. The hope is that stiffer penalties will mean less fraud and more accountability.
KRQE News 13 asked a few people Tuesday about what they think of the bill. While there was some support, some think it might not be the right time.
“I think there’s bigger crisis out there to focus on in the legislative session than the food stamp fraud. You know teacher salary would probably be my number one,” said Jeremiah Partin of Albuquerque.
“The only way to do it is to try I mean without trying you can’t change things,” said Barbara Bruno from Albuquerque.
According to a legislative impact report, New Mexico’s Public Defenders Department thinks the bill would send more food stamp fraud cases to trial.
The bill goes to the New Mexico Senate next for a vote. If it passes, the bill would take effect in July 2015.
The state estimates that about 450,000 New Mexicans use food stamps. Investigators look into about 1,400 different fraud cases each year, but the Human Services Department says typically only a few dozen move forward.