HOUSTON - A Local 2 investigation discovered Texans using hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of food stamps in tropical locations far from Texas.
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Texans used government assistance to buy food worth $288,633 in Hawaii, $76,364 in the Virgin Islands and $12,420 in Guam, during a three-year period beginning in June 2011.
"It's a little disconcerting," Texans for Fiscal Responsibility head Michael Quinn Sullivan told investigative reporter Jace Larson. "It's illustrative of broader waste in government."
The state data, reviewed by Local 2, showed spending in other states and U.S. territories increased during the summer months.
"We have concerns," said Texas Health and Human Services Commission spokesperson Stephanie Goodman. "We know, as with any large program, there is going to be a certain amount of fraud."
The state said it works to stop fraud or abuse by working to only give families in need the food benefit known as SNAP.
"We're checking people's bank account statements. Do they have other property they didn't tell us about? Do they have vehicles? We're looking to see if they paid their bills on time because if they did and they told us they had no money, we want to know how they did that," Goodman said. "We understand low-income families are just like any other family. They have births, deaths, graduations and marriages."
In addition to spending outside of the lower 48 states, $9.7 million was spent in California over a three-year period, and $9.5 million was spent in Florida.
The federal government mandates that SNAP cards be accepted nationwide no matter which state they are from.
Spending concerning for recipients
Angela Johnson recently started receiving food stamps when her husband became ill and could no longer work. The two take care of his daughter every other weekend.
"If I could go to those places, I don't think I'd need food stamps," Johnson said. "I'm almost 50 and this is my first time ever having food stamps."
She said her benefit each month is $145. Johnson works as a phlebotomist.
"I've been working since I was 14 years old," she said. "The system works but don't take advantage of it. It's for people who really need it and I do work."
She finds it frustrating that Texans would spend benefits so far away because she feels like she's helping fund other people's food stamps when she pays her own taxes.
The SNAP program is funded by federal tax dollars but administered by each state.
SNAP can't be used to buy tobacco, alcoholic drinks or pay for bills, according to the state's SNAP website. Adults 18 to 50 years old who don't have children in the home can get SNAP for a maximum of three months in a three-year period. The benefit can be longer if a person works.
Adults with children can be on SNAP for as long as the children are in the home, but a family must requalify every six months.
The average Texas family with one parent and one or two kids get $265 a month.
The federal government has forbidden the state from disclosing which retailers have accepted SNAP funds.
The state has a suspected abuse hotline where anyone can report abuse by calling 1-800-436-6184. You can also report it online here.26872624259598502596002426843230
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