UPDATE: The Ohio Senate was scheduled to take up Senate Bill 165 today in its final scheduled session for 2019. The body chose to send the bill back to committee for more work after concerns were raised by the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, as we reported (see below).
The Senate President still hopes to see the legislation pass if it can be appropriately adjusted to accommodate the concerns raised, according to Hamler-Fugitt. She still opposes the bill even if the federal guideline issues can be resolved, saying it is still a waste of taxpayer dollars.
COLUMBUS (WCMH) — As soon as Tuesday, Ohio State Senators may be asked to vote on whether Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards should have color photos attached to them for identification purposes.
The effort has been kicked around the Statehouse for a few years now, and currently State Senator Tim Schaffer (Lancaster-R) is sponsoring a bill that has cleared its first hurdle, coming out of the Senate General Government and Agency Review committee last week.
The bill adds a color photo to the front of the EBT card and a few other items to the back of the card; providing a fraud phone number, and explanation about who can use the card.
The entire process of adding color photos to the cards could cost the state around $15 million based on numbers from similar programs in other states, and an additional $1 million annually. It is anticipated that half of the cost would be shared by the federal government, all of it taxpayer dollars.
The purpose of adding the photos to the EBT cards would be curb fraudulent use. Whether stolen, sold, or traded, the cards would carry the photo of the head of household.
“Law enforcement tells us that folks would be a whole lot less likely to trade them for cash if their pictures were on there,” said Schaffer. “Bottom line is we’ve got to make sure the criminals aren’t victimizing these families anymore and this is one more layer of security that we can use to make sure that that’s not happening.”
17 states have implemented this kind of law; all but one of them have abandoned it, the lone hold out suspending the program.
Federal guidelines state that a person cannot be denied use of the EBT card if they are not the one pictured on the card, because family members may need to use it and only the head of household is pictured.
Federal guidelines also state that homeless households must be exempt from the photo requirement, Ohio’s bill does not afford this exception.
Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, the executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, says the bill does nothing to curb fraud.
“It has proven in the 17 states who have implemented it to be completely ineffective; in fact not a fraud deterrent at all, but a deterrent in participation,” claimed Hamler-Fugitt. “Massachusetts is the last state who has attempted to implement this bill and they have since suspended the implementation because it was wrought with problems.”
Hamler-Fugitt says claims that fraud is rampant with SNAP benefits is fiction here in Ohio.
In the 2019 Legislative Budget Office, Redbook Analysis of the Executive Budget Proposals there is a report from the Department of Public Safety detailing enforcement of SNAP fraud.
The Department of Public Safety’s Ohio Investigative Unit is responsible for investigating SNAP fraud. It was paid $1.4 million for its efforts in this regard in 2018.
In that time, the unit conducted 113 investigations, made 34 food stamp related arrests, issued 121 administrative citations, and seized a total of $4,437 in SNAP fraud investigations.
Meanwhile the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services says, for all of calendar year 2017 Ohio’s county agency investigators established 2,465 instances of SNAP fraud, totaling $4,456,726.
In that same amount of time 1,463,927 people received a total of $2,171,390,859 in SNAP benefits. That’s more than $2 billion dollars; so respectively, fraud was determined in about 00.3% of the SNAP recipients amounting to 00.2% of the SNAP dollars issued in 2017.
“I’m not sure why we’re doing this,” said Hamler-Fugitt. “Other than this is a part of a large package of bills that are being pushed by an out-of-state special interest group whose purpose is take down the social safety net. This appears to be a copy, paste, and legislate bill that has been circulated in Ohio for a number of years.”
Senator Schaffer was asked why the State is trying to do this, he said “It’s an added layer of security.”
A $15 million layer of security.
According to Dennis Lowe, a law enforcement agent assigned to a taskforce in the southern part of the state; police don’t need photos on the cards to solve the crime when they find EBT cards during drug busts.
The names on the cards are good enough for that.
Photos would help, according to Lowe, but they aren’t struggling to prove that the cards they do find don’t belong to the drug traffickers.
And they aren’t finding enormous stacks of cards either; perhaps only 5 or 6 at a time, because of the PIN problem. They have to remember the PIN number to access the money on the card, so having 20-30-50-100 cards is problematic unless they have a heck of a memory or record keeping system.
How much is on a card? The average monthly SNAP benefit for each household member was $123 for FY 2017.
Ultimately, lawmakers will have to decide if they think adding a photo to the card is going to stop someone from trading it away.
What do you think: In a society where addicts will do just about anything to get their drugs, is a photo going to be the thing that prevents them from cross that line when their name is already on the card?