Ohio Investigative Unit Cracks Down On Thieves Who Skim Welfare System

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Nearly 1.8 million Ohioans receive food assistance, and more than 750,000 of those are children.

One out of four people receiving assistance live in a household where someone is employed.

Officials with the Ohio Investigative Unit say they are cracking down on welfare fraud, though.

“They will walk in with, say, $100 benefits on their SNAP card, and the store will strip off those benefits and then the store will give them $50 in cash,” said Eric Wolf, the agent in charge with the OIU.

10TV News was there last December, when agents raided a west Columbus gas station.

Investigators say that the store was not only buying cards for cash but also was allowing customers to buy ineligible items like alcohol and cigarettes.

Undercover agents make routine and random visits to stores to test the system.

Ohio Auditor Dave Yost said that in the past five years, 17,000 people claimed their card was lost or stolen 10 or more times.

State investigators said that a majority of SNAP recipients are using the benefits to feed their families.

In Ohio, children make up 42 percent of the caseload.

Agents say that defrauding the system not only hurts families in need, but it’s a slap in the face to taxpayers.

“It’s taking advantage of everybody’s good will,” Wolf said. “To a certain extent, all families that have the ability to would help those in need.”

Store clerks who break the rules can face criminal charges, and owners can be at risk of losing their state liquor license.

Investigators say that it is a deterrent, but they also ask for central Ohioans’ tips about welfare fraud.

In 2011, Ohio investigators arrested 160 people for food-stamp related crimes.

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services said it is now working more closely with individual counties to follow up on people who request excessive replacement cards.

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