Residents caught abusing food stamp program - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Residents caught abusing food stamp program

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by Krystal Paco

Guam - The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as the food stamp program, is intended to help low-income families put food on the table, but over a handful of Guam residents were recently caught abusing their benefits.

If you're one of the over 40,000 Guam residents comprising the 14,000 households receiving food stamps, you may want to think twice before abusing your benefits.

"The first time you're caught with an intentional program violation, it's for 12 months. If you're caught again after that, the next penalty would be for 2 years. And finally the third time you're caught you're disqualified or banned for life. In the case of trafficking all we have to do is prove you've spent an excess of $500 and if you did, then you're disqualified automatically," said Francis Damian of the Department of Public Health and Social Services' Investigation and Recoupment Office at the Bureau of Management and Support. For the months of April through June, a total of eight individuals were caught intentionally violating the program and as a result, disqualified.

Their total in benefits? Almost $11,000. "It could be for a variety of reasons. One of them being household composition. Somebody moves out and nobody knows they're receiving benefits without telling anybody they should come in and file a report but they don't that's a violation," he said.

Another violation? Failing to report you've landed a job.

"If all of a sudden you got a job and you don't report that's one of the things we have to take a look at because it determines your eligibility when you apply for the SNAP program," he said.

The most serious of violations? Trafficking.

"That has to do with the fact that you're exchanging your benefits for cash, and that's a definite no-no. So that individual is no longer allowed within the food stamp program. It doesn't even matter if it's in here on Guam it's anywhere nationwide," he said.

But it's not just clients as Damian reports, store owners who entertain food stamp misuse could lose the right to accept food stamps at their establishment as well as face varying fines.

"You're just as much responsible as the clients are. The fraud and abuse could happen with the clients but it takes the store owners themselves to provide this service for them and to help them along so it's a conspiracy when you think about it so do the right thing. That's all I can tell you," he said.

 To report food stamp abuse, call the Keha Hotline at 735-7353.

"When it comes to calls, everything is basically complaint driven. Here we have, in Chamorro it's called "to tell" the hotline it's a Keha Hotline. Call up. Everything remains anonymous," he said.

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