CommonWealth Magazine

PUBLIC ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS Those whose crops were stolen will file a lawsuit on Friday and demand that the government reimburse them for the lost aid money.

The lawsuit was filed by the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute against the Transitional Assistance Office trying to help thousands of Massachusetts families who receive food stamp benefits that were stolen by “skimming.” Fraud is a crime where someone wrongly attaches a device to an ATM or store card machine and steals data such as a credit card or PIN number.

“What doesn’t happen is that people fill up their grocery carts at the supermarket, get to the checkout line and find that there’s no benefit in the account and they can’t feed their family that way.” month,” said Deborah Harris, a Massachusetts lawyer. Lawyer Reform Institute who filed the lawsuit. “That is unacceptable. The federal government or states must step up to the plate.

A spokesperson for the Office of Communications Assistance did not respond to requests for comment.

According to the lawsuit, which was filed in Suffolk Superior Court, since the spring of this year, Massachusetts and other states have seen a significant increase in the benefits of SNAP, or food stamps. SNAP, also known as the United States Food Assistance Program, provides food assistance to low-income households and stores the proceeds on an electronic benefits card similar to a credit card.

Christina Santiago of Saugus and Natahlie Rahmsay of Boston brought the lawsuit, two SNAP recipients whose benefits were stolen, but the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute wants it to be a class-action lawsuit representing all recipients. benefits were stolen.

The case brings up federal jurisdiction issues. The United States Department of Agriculture pays SNAP benefits. But the USDA won’t pay for stolen benefits, even if the theft wasn’t the household’s fault. While states may choose to use federal funds to reimburse individuals for stolen benefits, the federal Transitional Assistance Agency has said that benefits will not be paid because they are not earned. government pay.

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This policy will increase SNAP benefits. The Department of Communications Assistance pays the proceeds from its general assistance program for families who have been robbed through massage. Commercial credit card companies pay for stolen money. And if money is stolen from a credit card or other prepaid card, it must be paid by state law. Congress excluded public benefit cards from the 1996 federal credit card law, but warned that the state must write similar legislation. However, since the introduction of the electronic benefits system in 2010, replacing the paper-based system, no such law has been written.

The lawsuit alleges that the state’s Transitional Assistance Agency “has a responsibility under federal law to address the underdelivery of SNAP benefits to households whose SNAP has been stolen through no fault of the house.” It relies on a law that requires the government to compensate families when benefits are improperly denied, stopped or limited, and if someone’s benefits are stolen. , the money received by the family will be “problematic”. The suit alleges that Massachusetts has never used chip technology to protect its EBT cards, even though the technology is standard in the card industry.

Members of the state legislature – US Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and Reps. Jim McGovern, Richard Neal, Katherine Clark, and Stephen Lynch – wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on September 1 to ask the USDA to order states to refund the theft. benefits, and guarantee that the USDA will pay for them. At the time, members of Congress reported that at least $1 million was stolen from more than 2,000 homes in Massachusetts. (That’s a small fraction of the 630,000 Massachusetts residents who receive food stamp benefits.)

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“USDA must immediately address the current crisis by ordering states to immediately restore the benefits stolen by the cuts and by ensuring that the state government will pay the replacement costs,” the members of the Congress. “Now, the USDA must act quickly – developing and implementing safer systems for accessing essential food benefits.”

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Journalist, Wealthy

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira spent more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the illegal drug industry, the problems of the federal welfare system and the elections of US Sen. .Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association’s 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Writing and has received numerous awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (NH) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama’s 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master’s degree from the Graduate School of Columbia University.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira spent more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the illegal drug industry, the problems of the federal welfare system and the elections of US Sen. .Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association’s 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Writing and has received numerous awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (NH) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama’s 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master’s degree from the Graduate School of Columbia University.

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The USDA on October 31 issued a notice urging states to take measures to prevent fraud, such as banning the use of common PINs, adding a magnetic stripe to cards, the check for patterns of fraud, and ask for additional authentication when someone calls to check their balance. . It also calls for giving households the option to block out-of-state transfers or temporarily freeze their credit cards. But the letter did not provide government resources to compensate robbery victims.

The trial focuses on the effect of robbery on its victims. Santiago is a pharmacist at a long-term care facility earning her master’s degree and raising two children. She relies on $740 a month in SNAP benefits to buy food for her family. When she went grocery shopping in October the day after her monthly benefits were issued, she was told there was no money in her account. She called the DTA office and was told that her benefits had been spent in Texas, and that the state would issue a new card but not refund the money. Someone a week earlier spent a small amount of money in Arkansas, and Santiago said DTA did not flag those purchases or warn him that someone was accessing his account improperly.

Rahmsay is 71 years old and cares for her oldest son who has Down syndrome. Income for both is disability benefits. In July, she discovered nearly $400 of her SNAP benefits had been stolen from her account and used in Illinois. DTA didn’t pay the money and its finances were in trouble.

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