The new legislation comes after a class action lawsuit was filed in Suffolk Superior Court by thousands of Massachusetts families who have had SNAP benefits stolen from their accounts and are seeking compensation.
“We’re really pleased that Congress is stepping up to provide some relief to families who have been harmed by scam-related theft,” said Betsy Gwin, senior attorney at the nonprofit Massachusetts Law Reform Institute. “We think this is a really positive step.”
Although the positive effects will be limited, Gwen said. More than 5,000 Massachusetts households reported the theft of $1.6 million in SNAP benefits from June 2022 to November 2022, according to the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance, the agency named in the lawsuit that oversees the SNAP program in the state.
Compensation funds will only cover a portion of the affected households, Gwin said.
“It’s not going to cover the damage to every home in Massachusetts,” Gwynne said. “Many individuals and families we’ve spoken to over the past months had their benefits stolen prior to October 2022, and will not be covered by this federal provision.”
Electronic theft has increased so much in recent months that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which funds the program, issued a warning about SNAP scamming in late October. Scammers “scam” EBT cards with a hard-to-detect device inserted into the card reader, which allows them to clone the card, stealing the card number and PIN.
The plaintiff in the class action lawsuit, Natahili Rahmsay, 71, who lives in Boston with her 34-year-old disabled son, will not get any relief under the new legislation because her funds were stolen in July.
When Rahmse went to America’s Food Basket on July 11 and tried to buy $91 worth of groceries, she found out she didn’t have enough money in her account to cover it. She later learned that someone had spent $399.84 from her account. July 2 at Sam’s Club in Cicero, Ill.
Rahmse does not have a Sam’s Club membership, nor has she ever been to Cicero, ill.
“The loss of approximately $400 in SNAP in July put a strain on Ms. Rahmse’s finances,” the lawsuit said.
Rahmse has since stopped paying for certain items and used the limited income from her and her son’s disability to buy food, the lawsuit says, and has since regained her financial footing. Struggling for
EBT cards are exempt from federal protections that largely protect credit and debit cardholders in the event of fraud.
“This is a despicable crime that really targets the most vulnerable among us,” U.S. Rep. Charles Albert “Dutch” Ropersberger of Maryland said in a telephone interview Thursday. Ruppersberger introduced a similar bill in Congress in November, HR 9319, that would enable states to reissue stolen food aid with federal funds.
Currently, the federal government is not required to replace SNAP funds stolen from states. And although federal law prohibits states from using federal funds to pay victims, states have been able to use their own money — but most don’t.
“How it works is that the federal government will pay for all the people who are victims, but it has to go through the state,” Ropersberger said. “So we have to involve all states in the process.”
He continued, “We’ve heard from families who have had to forgo Christmas presents for their children because their grocery money was stolen.”