The new law comes as a class-action lawsuit was filed in Suffolk Superior Court on behalf of thousands of Massachusetts families who had their SNAP benefits stolen from their accounts and are seeking compensation.
“We’re very pleased that Congress is stepping up to provide some relief to families who have been injured in a robbery,” said Betsy Gwin, senior attorney at the nonprofit Massachusetts Law Reform Institute. “We think this is a very good deal.”
Good results are rare, Gwin said. More than 5,000 households in Massachusetts reported $1.6 million in stolen SNAP benefits from June 2022 to November 2022, according to the Massachusetts Department of Veterans Affairs, the agency was named in a lawsuit governing the SNAP program in the state.
Refunds will only cover a fraction of the homes that have been damaged, Gwin said.
“It doesn’t cover the damage that has happened to every home in Massachusetts,” Gwin said. “Many individuals and families we have spoken to over the past few months have had their benefits stolen before October 2022, and they will no longer be covered by this government provision.”
Electronic thefts have increased in recent months, and the US Agriculture Department, which funds the program, issued a warning about SNAP skimming in late October. Fraudsters “switch” EBT cards through a hard-to-detect device embedded in the card reader, which allows them to block the card, steal the card number and the PIN.
Natahlie Rahmsay, 71, a plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit who lives with her 34-year-old disabled son in Boston, will not see any relief under the new law because his money was stolen in July.
When Rahmsay went to the American Grocery Store and tried to make a $91 purchase on July 11, she found that her wallet was too small. He later learned that the person had spent $399.84 from his account on July 2 at Sam’s Club in Cicero, Ill.
Rahmsay is not a member of Sam’s Club and has never been to Cicero, Ill.
“The loss of approximately $400 in SNAP in July caused Ms. Rahmsay’s financial hardship,” the lawsuit said.
Rahmsay has struggled to get her bank account back since, stopped paying for things and used her and her son’s limited disability income to buy groceries, the lawsuit alleges.
EBT cards do not fall under the federal protections that protect most credit and debit card holders in the event of fraud.
“It’s a heinous crime that targets the most vulnerable among us,” Maryland US Representative Charles Albert “Dutch” Ruppersberger said in a phone interview Thursday. Ruppersberger introduced a similar bill, HR 9319, in Congress in November that would have allowed states to resubmit food aid and federal subsidies.
Currently, the federal government is not requiring states to replace stolen SNAP funds. And while federal law prohibits states from using federal funds to reimburse victims, states have been able to use their own money — but most don’t.
“How it works is that the federal government pays for all these people who have died, but it has to go through the state,” Ruppersberger said. “So all governments have to get involved.”
He continued, “We’ve heard from families who have given up on Christmas presents for their children because their shopping money was stolen.”