“If you see something, say something.” That tagline was created by the Department of Homeland Security in an effort to involve citizens in the ongoing fight against terrorism by asking to report suspicious activity.
The line could be applied to other criminal acts as well — and was up until recently in the District of Columbia, which had launched a taxpayer-funded advertising effort urging people to report food stamp fraud.
But not any more. The posters, which the district’s Department of Human Services had put up in metro stations with an eye toward curbing the theft of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, have been removed.
The city government has explained the move in a statement that reads in part:
We have received feedback that the campaign was not perceived in the way it was intended. The advertisement missed the mark, and DHS apologizes for sharing a message that is not a reflection of our values.
Calling out fraud is “not a reflection of” the district’s “values”? How is preventing a crime in which 35,000 retailers engaged over a three-year period, inconsistent with the values of any American city?
The ads went up in D.C. as Congress considers greater restrictions to food stamp eligibility in the upcoming farm bill.
— Helena Bottemiller Evich (@hbottemiller) April 16, 2018
Food stamps are federally funded benefits for food assistance, but state governments manage the program and are responsible for investigating and removing users who get benefits improperly or who use the benefits fraudulently. Food stamp fraud can include individuals trafficking the benefit cards for cash or drugs, purchasing ineligible items with the allotment, or store managers purchasing inventory with SNAP cards.
“The advertisements were intended to raise awareness of the program and help ensure that these crucial resources go directly to meeting the nutritional needs of District households,” the D.C. government said, adding funds for the ad campaign came from the Department of Agriculture, which oversees the program.
The funding was given to the district for the “explicit purpose of educating residents on ways to ensure the program can meet its goal of addressing food insecurity.”
In 2017, D.C. received part of a $3 million grant at building awareness for food stamps trafficking and misuse of benefits in an effort to reduce fraud. The district shared the funding with nine other states and the territory of Guam, a spokesman for the USDA told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
The funds from that grant must go exclusively toward building awareness of food stamp fraud, while D.C. will now “work with food insecurity stakeholders and our federal partners to identify more appropriate strategies to educate residents on ways to prevent fraudulent behaviors,” the District said.
D.C. has the highest percentage of food stamps recipients per capita in the country, with around 20% of the total population, or 134,625 individual recipients, receiving food stamps in 2016.
DHS did not return TheDCNF’s inquiry about what public comment it received, but a student blog post on Georgetown University’s Food Institute website April 12 — the day D.C. apologized for the ad campaign — decried the posters as “not reflective of DC Values.”
The authors make the points “almost no Metro rider could tell you what ‘SNAP FRAUD!’ actually looks like” and “there’s nothing mandating a public advertising campaign to enlist average citizens to call in anonymous tips based on their suspicions.”
State governments are required to investigate and prosecute SNAP fraud. However, D.C.’s fraud rate is low, according to statistics on food stamp fraud prosecutions — 122 individuals of 134,625 people receiving food stamps were disqualified after being prosecuted for food stamp fraud in 2016.
This report, by Thomas Phippen, was cross posted by arrangement with the Daily Caller News Foundation. Ben Bowles contributed to this report.