Local sheriffs backed up a statement U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-19, made in Kingston last week that every drug dealer they arrest receives benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Although local sheriffs did not say all drug dealers defraud government benefits, they said it is a problem.
“When we serve warrants, we do often find benefit cards on people,” Columbia County Sheriff David Bartlett said. “If we can provide evidence, we pursue charges for defrauding the system.”
Bartlett recalled raiding a few houses in the fall of 2017. They struck him because he noticed that beside a dresser that held an undisclosed amount of cocaine was a Department of Social Services benefit card.
“[Faso] is right,” Greene County Sheriff Greg Seeley said. “Eighty-five percent of these drug dealers are on some kind of welfare or benefits. It is absolutely ridiculous.”
Dealers work in a cash business, essentially, and do not report income, making them appear eligible for benefits such as SNAP, Bartlett said.
“If Jimmy Smith applies for a benefit card, and does not declare his drug income, how would the caseworker know,” Bartlett said. “How is anyone going to prove it until federal drug charges are filed.”
Proving fraud in such cases is tough, Bartlett said, because investigators have to prove the person did not have a legitimate reason for receiving benefits on the onset.
“It is a fine line, too,” Bartlett said. “Even if someone did something in the past, that does not mean they do not need benefits now after they are trying to do the right thing.”
Seeley’s office does not handle fraud cases for benefits, he said, but he wished he could go after such fraud.
“We should be the ones to handle it,” Seeley said. “The way it is now these guys won’t be arrested within four to six months.”
Bartlett has also seen people who sell their food stamps and other benefits.
“We did a raid on a place in Hudson a couple of years ago where they were taking benefits and trading them in for things they are not supposed to,” Bartlett said. “There are families and people who need these benefits to survive because they do not have jobs or do not make enough. This is just free money for drug dealers. It is sad.”
Seeley said changes have to be made at all levels to the benefits system and that penalties have to be toughened for drug dealers.
“I am all about helping someone who needs it if say they lost their job and need to feed their family,” Seeley said. “But they need to tighten the requirements on these benefits. You should only be allowed to stay on them for a limited time. It is like a revolving door and people just stay on benefits.”
As of fiscal year 2016 in the 19th Congressional District, 26,716 households receive SNAP benefits and 14,678 families, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Most households receiving SNAP benefits in the 19th Congressional District have at least one disabled person, 51.8 percent, and at least one person who is older than 60 years old, 38.6 percent, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Most of the families receiving SNAP benefits in the district have one person working within the past 12 months, 40.5 percent, while the next largest group of families, 31.9 percent, have no one working within the past 12 months.
Faso’s comments come as he pushes for support among his constituents for Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 that the leadership in the House of Representatives introduced in April. House Republicans are proposing to create stricter work requirements for SNAP benefits.
The proposal would require most adults between 18 and 59 to work part-time or enroll in 20 hours a week of workforce training to receive assistance. The plan budgets $1 billion a year to fund the training program expansion.