7 U.S. Code § 2024 - Food Stamp Fraud
The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formally known as the Food Stamp Program, was established as a way for the government to help impoverished individuals and families receive subsidies to buy much-needed food.
As such, any attempt to exploit the SNAP program for personal gain, colloquially known as “food stamp fraud,” misappropriates taxpayer money and ultimately hurts those in need. For that reason, food stamp fraud is a federal crime punishable by fines, prison time, restitution, and forfeiture of property to reimburse the government.
The enforcement measures outlined by the government are embodied in Title 7 U.S. Code 2024, which says, “…. whoever knowingly uses, transfers, acquires, alters, or possesses benefits in any manner contrary to this chapter or the regulations, shall, if benefits are of a value of $5,000 or more, be guilty of a felony…. if such benefits are of a value of $100 or more, but less than $5,000, or if the item used, transferred, acquired, altered, or possessed is a benefit that has a value of $100 or more, be guilty of a felony… if such benefits are of a value of less than $100, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor….
In addition, any person convicted of a felony or misdemeanor violation may be suspended by the court from participation in the supplemental nutrition assistance program for an additional period of up to eighteen months consecutive to that period of suspension mandated by section 2015(b)(1) of this title.”
Suppose you are convicted of violating this federal law. In that case, you are facing hefty fines and possible imprisonment. Let's review this statute in more detail below.
What Does the Law Say?
While Title 7 U.S.C. 2024 addresses multiple facets related to the SNAP program, such as authorizing the Secretary of Agriculture to enforce benefits, the law effectively criminalizes two types of food stamp fraud, as discussed below.
This section makes it a crime when an individual knowingly “uses, transfers, acquires, alters, or possesses” SNAP benefits in a manner that is not authorized. This could include actions such as:
- Selling SNAP benefits for cash, also known as trafficking;
- Using someone else's SNAP benefits without their permission;
- Providing false information on a SNAP application, such as underreporting income or assets, to receive more benefits than one is entitled to.
This part of the law makes it a federal crime to present SNAP benefits for redemption while knowing they were obtained unlawfully. For example, if someone unlawfully “sells” your SNAP benefits and you attempt to redeem them knowing they were obtained fraudulently, you are committing a crime under Title 7 U.S.C. 2024.
About either of these offenses, the term ‘knowingly' in this context means that the individual was aware that their actions were contrary to the regulations of the SNAP program.
Unintentional errors or mistakes are not considered fraud under this law. Thus, proving intent and prior knowledge are vital elements, prosecutors must prove to procure a conviction.
What Are Some Examples?
EXAMPLE 1: Benny's girlfriend is on the SNAP program. Unbeknownst to her, Benny swipes her SNAP card and goes to the store, using the SNAP benefits to buy groceries for himself. Benny can be prosecuted under 7 U.S.C. 2024 because he acquired the benefits unlawfully.
EXAMPLE 2: Maria, a single mother of two, intentionally underreports her wage income on her SNAP application to receive more benefits. She knows this is against the program's rules but decides to take the risk to care for her children. If caught, Maria can be prosecuted for unlawful acquisition under 7 U.S.C. 2024 because she knowingly provided false information to obtain more benefits than she was entitled to.
EXAMPLE 3: Jim, a shop owner, knowingly accepts SNAP benefits as payment for non-food items in his store, such as cigarettes and alcohol, which is against SNAP rules. Additionally, he purchases SNAP benefits from customers in financial distress for 50 cents on the dollar.
When he uses these unlawfully acquired benefits to replenish his store's supplies, he commits unlawful redemption under 7 U.S.C. 2024. His actions could lead to prosecution, as he knowingly violated the program's rules and exploited economically vulnerable people.
What Are the Related Federal Laws?
7 U.S. Code Chapter 51 – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program has several federal statutes that are related to 7 U.S.C. 2024 food stamp fraud, including the following:
- 7 U.S.C. 2011 - Congressional declaration of policy;
- 7 U.S.C. 2012 – Definitions;
- 7 U.S.C. 2012a - Publicly operated community health centers;
- 7 U.S.C. 2013 - Establishment of supplemental nutrition assistance;
- 7 U.S.C. 2014 - Eligible households;
- 7 U.S.C. 2014a - Notice of change in the state of residence of household;
- 7 U.S.C. 2015 - Eligibility disqualifications;
- 7 U.S.C. 2016 - Issuance and use of program benefits;
- 7 U.S.C. 2016a - EBT benefits fraud prevention;
- 7 U.S.C. 2017 - Value of allotment;
- 7 U.S.C. 2018 - Approval of retail food stores and wholesale food;
- 7 U.S.C. 2019 - Redemption of program benefits;
- 7 U.S.C. 2020 – Administration;
- 7 U.S.C. 2021 - Civil penalties and disqualification of retail food stores;
- 7 U.S.C. 2022 - Disposition of claims;
- 7 U.S.C. 2023 - Administrative and judicial review; restore rights;
- 7 U.S.C. 2024 - Violations and enforcement;
- 7 U.S.C. 2025 - Administrative cost-sharing and quality control;
- 7 U.S.C. 2026 - Research, demonstration, and evaluations;
- 7 U.S.C. 2026a - Healthy fluid milk incentives projects;
- 7 U.S.C. 2027 - Appropriations and allotments;
- 7 U.S.C. 2028 - Block grants for Puerto Rico and American Samoa;
- 7 U.S.C. 2029 – Workfare;
- 7 U.S.C. 2031 - Minnesota Family Investment Project;
- 7 U.S.C. 2032 - Automated data processing and retrieval systems;
- 7 U.S.C. 2034 - Assistance for community food projects;
- 7 U.S.C. 2035 - Simplified supplemental nutrition assistance program;
- 7 U.S.C. 2036 - Commodities for emergency food assistance program;
- 7 U.S.C. 2036a - Nutrition education and obesity prevention program;
- 7 U.S.C. 2036b - Retail food store and recipient trafficking;
- 7 U.S.C. 2036c - Annual State report on verification of SNAP participation;
- 7 U.S.C. 2036d - Pilot projects to encourage the use of public-private partnerships committed to addressing food insecurity.
What Are the Penalties for 7 U.S.C. 2024?
Title 7 U.S.C. 2024 enumerates a wide range of penalties, some quite severe, for perpetrators of food stamp fraud. The actual penalties depend on the type of offense and the total dollar value of the alleged fraud. You could face any of the following penalties if convicted under this law.
For crimes of unlawful acquisition, transfer, use, et al. of SNAP benefits:
- If the total value is under $100: up to $1000 in fines and up to one year in prison. A misdemeanor offense;
- If the total value is between $100 and $5000: up to $10,000 in fines and up to five years in prison;
- If the total value is greater than $5000: up to $250,000 in fines and up to 20 years in prison.
For crimes of unlawful redemption:
- If the total value is under $100: up to $1000 in fines and up to one year in prison;
- If the total value exceeds $1000: up to $20,000 in fines and up to five years in prison.
For any conviction under Title 7 U.S.C. 2024, you may also be subject to the forfeiture of any non-monetary property involved in the fraud, such as items traded in exchange for fraudulent benefits.
As an alternative to fines and imprisonment, the courts may sometimes permit someone convicted of food stamp fraud to “work off” their obligation by performing court-approved work until the equivalent restitution is paid. With such agreements, the court will suspend their sentence.
What Are the Defenses for 7 U.S.C. 2024?
Most penalties for food stamp fraud involve administrative fines, but criminal charges are possible. Since SNAP benefits are managed through a federal government agency, it's a federal crime. Our defense attorneys could use different strategies to obtain the best possible outcome.
To be convicted of food stamp fraud, the prosecutor has to prove you had fraudulent intent, meaning you knew you were committing fraud and intended to do so.
Suppose we can argue there were accidental omissions or misinformation. In that case, it can't be considered fraudulent intent. Often, it isn't easy to prove you knew and understood all the statutes associated with assistance.
Perhaps our federal criminal defense lawyers can help successfully argue for your case to be diverted from the court system and into a program focusing on restitution. Still, you will be required to pay back your benefits and be disqualified for some time, but this could help avoid criminal charges and jail time.
Contact us for a case review by phone or through the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP has offices in Los Angeles, CA.