Delaware Social Workers Indicted For Theft of Nearly $1 Million in Food Benefits

Seven former employees of the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services have been indicted for the theft of more than $959,000 in federally funded Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards following an internal audit and “months-long” investigation, state Attorney General Matt Denn (D) announced on Tuesday. The social workers created accounts for fictitious Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients, and used some of the accompanying payment cards themselves, while selling others for less than the amount of funds in each account.

SNAP is the 21st-century equivalent of food stamps, with roots in the Agriculture Adjustment Act of 1933 and the Food Stamp Program of 1939, both implemented as part of FDR’s New Deal. In 2015, the federal government spent about $75 billion on the program, plus another $2.4 billion on similar programs. Ironically, EBT cards, which transfer funds directly from a federal account to retailers, were instituted to reduce the fraud and misuse associated with paper food stamps. EBT is also used to distribute various “cash benefits,” popularly known as welfare.

Two of the employees, Allison Rivera and Angelette Brown, were convicted and sentenced to two years of probation in April; they took a total of nearly $44,000, which they must repay. Nicole Stevens took just over $8,000. The others — Detrich Simmons-Heath, Kamilah Laws, Jo Ellen Edwards, and Shirlene Davis — face more serious charges ranging from forgery to theft over $100,000.

In 2014, the News Journal reported that about 17% of Delawareans were receiving food benefits, higher than the national estimate of 14.5% at the time, when that figure was the lowest it had been in nearly three years. Today the national figure is even lower than it was then, with about 1.8 million fewer recipients.

Libertarian congressional candidate and state party chairman Scott Gesty took aim at the program’s accountability — or lack thereof — arguing that abuse would be less likely “if private organizations either were responsible for distributing the cards, or, better yet, providing the charity itself.” He questioned the length of the investigation and the number of agencies involved, and went on to say that private entities “are much more streamlined and have tighter internal controls” than state agencies.

Gesty concluded, “state-run programs that handle dollars that aren’t earned, but are just handed to them by the Feds, are just more likely to have theft and corruption involved. Privatizing the system would go a long way in preventing this type of thing from happening.”

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