Sunday, June 5, 2011

My brush with food stamp fraud

I was tempted with welfare fraud some while back. I was putting my groceries in the trunk of my car outside the old Uptown Supermarket on North Ave. in Milwaukee, when a young woman with a cartload of bagged groceries asked me for a ride.

“I’ll give you $10 in food stamps,” she said.

I gave her the ride, but rejected the stamps – and thereby avoided a crime. It is illegal to exchange food stamps except for the purchase of food, as an exposé in Sunday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel notes.

Actually, her offer wasn’t much of a temptation. She was plainly needy – sufficient reason to give her a ride. It’s one of the Beatitudes, I believe.

From U.S. Department of Agriculture
Still, I couldn’t help but think that, had I been broke myself with no job in sight – the plight of a whole bunch of people – I doubtless would have accepted the food stamps, middle-class morality be damned. (He who has never fudged on his 1040, cast the first stone.) In fact, I might have hung around the store’s parking lot giving rides for cash or food stamps to people with lots of groceries and no cars.

Which is why I find it hard to get worked up over the Journal Sentinel’s blockbuster story finding that nine people in Milwaukee and 70 nationwide were using Facebook to buy or sell food assistance benefits illegally. The people caught in the newspaper’s dragnet apparently lacked the sophistication to deploy a privacy shield over such transactions – an option Facebook gives them.

My brush with food stamp fraud preceded the Internet’s social networks, which have expanded the reach of people seeking to buy or sell the coupons. So maybe real big-time crime is now afoot. What’s more, the Journal Sentinel (where I spent most of my journalism career) has been doing superb exposés of late. Still, I find it hard to work up outrage over this particular peek at a struggle for survival on the part of poor people.

I don’t know whether my passenger knew that she was proposing to break the law. But she was in a bind. She lived close enough to the store to walk there, but had too many groceries to walk back. She knew she would need a ride, so she frugally reserved enough of her precious food stamps to pay for it.

Though she was ready to break the law, she looked more like a mom struggling to make ends meet than a crook.

1 comment:

  1. I wish the JS would spend half as much time and effort going after people like the executives who ran M&I Bank into the ground, and were rewarded with millions for doing so. Of course, they helped elect the governor, whom we all love. Why does penny ante fraud (on a relative scale) rile people up more than big-time ripoffs?