ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — In order to receive Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, participants must be hovering around the poverty line. The food assistance program is designed for the poorest, and, subsequently, most vulnerable members of the population.
But in the past year, over 10,000 New York recipients have lost some or all of their benefits to a form of electronic theft known as skimming.
Despite its name, victims of skimming aren’t losing a little off the top, often seeing all of their benefits taken by this form of identity theft. And they don’t get any extra help from the state, according to a new lawsuit.
The Legal Aid Society of Rochester (along with a national law firm) is filing a federal class action lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). They claim that due to the ban on replacing stolen benefits with federal funds, several states — including New York — have chosen to not issue additional benefits at all to victims.
“It is unacceptable that the USDA is essentially passing the buck and not taking responsibility for reimbursing victims of skimming,” said Alex MacDougall, staff attorney in the Civil Law Reform Unit at The Legal Aid Society. “[The USDA is doing this] despite legal mandates that protect other forms of electronic theft and the agency’s responsibility to ensure that benefits systems are protected.”
Filers said that the lawsuit hopes to enforce the same rules that SNAP’s predecessor followed, where families got reimbursement in the form of additional benefits. Currently, a family who gets their benefits stolen must rely on food banks, relatives, and neighbors to hold out until the next month’s benefits come in.
Filers acknowledged that in December 2022, a federal regulation was passed to restore up to two months of benefits to victims of thefts that occurred after October 1, 2022. However, they argue that two months is not enough, nor does it help families who may still be suffering from thefts they experienced prior to that date.
According to the FBI, skimming is an electronic theft that occurs during the physical act of swiping your card. Often seen at gas stations, a thief will tamper with the point of sale location — the place you swipe your card — installing an additional device designed to steal your information.
In New York, over $4.6 million in SNAP benefits have been stolen from January 2022 to mid-February 2023, the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance says.