By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,
Maryland became the first state in the nation to start using funds from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to reimburse victims of Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) fraud on March 27, with outreach efforts to affected individuals already underway.
Gov. Wes Moore recently announced the Department of Human Services’ (DHS) approval of almost 1,300 fraud claims from Marylanders totaling $761,584 in recovered benefits.
Maryland residents whose benefits were stolen between Oct. 1, 2022, and Feb. 28, 2023, are eligible for reimbursement. A benefits replacement form must be submitted by May 31.
“My administration is using a direct and swift approach to reimburse people whose food and cash benefits were stolen,” said Moore, in a statement. “We are demonstrating how our state will lead and find innovative ways to solve our common problems and restore faith in our family-serving institutions.”
Last spring, the Maryland Department of Human Services (DHS) issued a statement alerting EBT recipients to an uptick in benefit theft by fraudsters. The agency urged them to take extra precautions to safeguard their EBT cards and informed them that the state could not replace any stolen benefits.
Fraudsters can steal individuals’ EBT dollars with phishing schemes or by hacking government systems to steal funds and using skimmers on point-of-sale devices to retrieve card information.
In February, Maryland became the first state to get approval for an EBT reimbursement plan from the USDA, according to a statement from DHS. At that time, there were nearly 3,800 reported victims of fraud with over $2.5 million in stolen benefits.
The state’s new process to reimburse EBT fraud victims was developed in less than 90 days, and approved individuals will receive their reimbursements in 15 days or less.
“The Marylanders we serve deserve world-class customer service,” said Rafel Lopez, secretary for DHS, in a statement. “We are grateful for Governor Moore’s leadership and for all of our partners on the federal, state and local level who supported our efforts and enabled us to make this happen so swiftly.”
DHS has partnered with Conduent, a business process solutions company, to help prevent further EBT fraud and make the system more secure. Through the collaboration, EBT recipients can now take advantage of a card lock and unlock feature in a mobile app or online portal, and they can opt to receive EBT fraud alerts to better monitor their card activity.
“We look forward to continuing to partner with Maryland as it models a path forward for other states,” said Stacy Dean, under-secretary of USDA’s Food, Nutrition and Consumer (FNS) Services, in a statement.
“USDA does not tolerate fraud in our FNS programs. Losing SNAP benefits is devastating for the victims, and we will continue to work hand-in-hand with Maryland and our other state partners to replace these benefits that are so vital to the health and nutrition of SNAP families.”
Megan Sayles is a Report for America Corps member.