U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), along with Representatives Grace Meng (D-NY-6), and Nydia Velázquez (D-NY-7), led their colleagues in sending a letter urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to better protect Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) beneficiaries at risk of having their benefits stolen through skimming scams. At least nine states across the country, including New York, have reported a rash of SNAP benefits being lost due to skimming scams. Since June 2022, over $312,000 in SNAP benefits have been stolen from more than 2,200 SNAP households throughout New York State, while states like Massachusetts have reported $1 million stolen in SNAP funds. As the policy stands, SNAP benefits cannot be returned to the victims of scammers who had their money stolen via skimming scams. Unlike regulations that apply to credit card theft, the recourse for SNAP theft is based on the 1996 system when paper food stamps were still in use. Senator Gillibrand, Rep. Meng and Rep. Velázquez are calling on the USDA to revise the regulations so states have the ability to rectify instances of SNAP benefit theft.
“Every month, more low-income households are at risk of losing their SNAP benefits and facing hunger without the possibility of justice. People who rely on SNAP benefits to feed themselves and their families face an even great risk of food insecurity and economic instability when their SNAP benefits are stolen,” said Senator Gillibrand. “These scammers are targeting some of our most vulnerable communities – it’s a disgrace and we must meet the need to stop scammers from stealing EBT benefits without recourse. That’s why I’m calling on the USDA to bring regulations for SNAP into the 21st century to help protect these lifesaving benefits that keep our communities fed and put a stop to theft.”
“Some of our most vulnerable community members are being put into further positions of turmoil due to their SNAP benefits being stolen. The issue of skimming SNAP benefits is making food insecurity worse for individuals and families across the state of New York and the country,” said Congresswoman Grace Meng. “Millions rely on SNAP benefits every day and it is unacceptable that there is no recourse for victims of SNAP benefit theft. Thanks to Senator Gillibrand and Rep. Velázquez for helping lead this effort, I am proud to join my colleagues and urge the Department of Agriculture to better protect SNAP benefits and revise its regulation so that SNAP beneficiaries can be reimbursed for funds that were previously stolen.”
“For so many Americans, SNAP is a lifeline that helps working families put food on their tables and assists them in achieving economic stability,” said Rep. Nydia Velázquez. “The scammers that look to do harm on the most vulnerable is vile, which is why there needs to be robust protections for SNAP recipients. I’m proud to join my colleagues in calling for more updated regulations for SNAP so that we can safeguard working families and ensure thieves are brought to justice.”
“SNAP benefits are a lifeline for many families, senior citizens, veterans, college students, and many others who need them to feed themselves and their families ”, said Sherry Tomasky, Director of Public Affairs at Hunger Solutions New York. “SNAP recipients deserve protections against lost benefits due to card skimming. We want to thank Senator Gillibrand and Representatives Meng and Velázquez for their leadership in elevating the issue of EBT card skimming and bringing urgency to the need for a swift and full restitution for affected households.”
Skimming occurs when criminals place a “skimming” device on an ATM or POS (point of sale) device to capture a person’s PIN information and the data stored on the magnetic strip of the SNAP EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) card. This allows thieves to use that information to duplicate the EBT card and to access the benefits in the SNAP beneficiary’s account, even without the original card. Unlike credit card, debit card and pre-paid cardholders who are covered by the federal Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA) and Regulation E against losses from unauthorized electronic transactions, SNAP EBT beneficiaries are not afforded the same protections.
Senator Gillibrand is demanding that families who have been conned in skimming scams be allowed to recover their SNAP EBT benefits, directing states to promptly restore stolen benefits as well as the federal government to reimburse states for the replacement costs. In addition to Senator Gillibrand, Rep. Meng, and Rep. Velázquez, this letter was signed by Representatives Yvette Clark (D-NY-9), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY-18), Ritchie Torres (D-NY-15), Joseph Morelle (D-NY-25), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY-8), Thomas Suozzi (D-NY-3), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY-25), Paul Tonko (D-NY-20), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY-14), and Kathleen Rice (D-NY-4).
Click HERE for more information on how to protect yourself from becoming a victim of skimming scams.
Read the full letter HERE and below:
Dear Secretary Vilsack,
We write on behalf of the over 1.6 million low-income New York residents we represent whose SNAP benefits are at risk of being stolen through skimming. Already, in only a few months, thieves have stolen over $300,000 in SNAP dollars from more than 2,200 households in NYS. Every month, more low-income households are at risk of losing their SNAP benefits and facing hunger. Low-income households who rely on SNAP benefits to feed themselves and their families face food insecurity and economic instability when their SNAP benefits are stolen. At least 8 other states are also reporting a rash of SNAP benefits lost due to skimming.
We understand that USDA is telling NYS and other states that they cannot use federal SNAP funds to restore the lost SNAP benefits. We urge USDA to take immediate action to (1) instruct states to restore benefits stolen through skimming and assure states that USDA will cover the cost, and (2) move quickly to help states implement Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) technologies that are more secure than the current system and that are workable for households.
Skimming occurs when criminals place a “skimming” device on an ATM or POS (point of sale) device to capture the PIN and the data stored on the magnetic strip of the SNAP EBT card. The criminals then use that information to duplicate the EBT card and to access the benefits in the SNAP beneficiary’s account. Debit and pre-paid cards may also be skimmed but the holders of these cards are covered by the federal Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA) and Regulation E, which protect consumers against losses from unauthorized electronic transactions. EFTA, as amended by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) in 1996, expressly excludes EBT cardholders from its protections, leaving SNAP EBT cardholders without the recourse available to other consumers when their benefits are stolen.
When Congress excluded EBT from consumer protection laws in 1996, it provided that:
Regulations issued by the Secretary regarding the replacement of benefits and liability for replacement of benefits under an electronic benefit transfer system shall be similar to the regulations in effect for a paper-based food stamp issuance system.
The regulation in effect at the time of PRWORA for the paper-based issuance system required full replacement of food stamp ATPs (authorizations to purchase) or coupons that were stolen under circumstances beyond the household’s control. As long as the state was not at fault for the loss, the federal government covered the cost of replacement. This regulation was rescinded in 2010 after the paper-based system was replaced by EBT. Twenty-six years after PRWORA, USDA has still not issued regulations addressing the replacement of benefits under an EBT system.
Possibly, USDA has assumed that additional regulations were not needed because a regulation that preceded PRWORA provides:
- State agencies shall be held strictly liable for overissuances resulting from Electronic Benefit Transfer system errors and unauthorized account activities. Such overissuances shall include but not be limited to: Overissuances to household accounts that are accessed and used by households, replacement benefits to a household’s account due to unauthorized use of the benefits in a household’s account, benefits drawn from an EBT account after the household has reported that the EBT card is lost or stolen to the State or its agent, overdraft situations due to the use of manual back-up procedures approved by the State agency, overcredits to a retailer account and transfer of funds to an illegitimate account.
A payment to a thief is an “overissuance” “resulting from . . . unauthorized account activities” or the “transfer of funds to an illegitimate account.” Under the regulations, the states are liable for “replacement benefits to a household’s account due to unauthorized use.” Thus, states are responsible for replacing benefits lost due to skimming. However, there can be no question that Congress in 1996 intended that under an EBT system, as under the paper-based system, the federal government was responsible for covering the cost of replacing benefits stolen under circumstances beyond the household’s control.
The federal government mandated that states deliver benefits through EBT. The risk of skimming has been apparent for a number of years, but, USDA has not issued regulations or established standards to help states implement more secure systems. USDA should immediately address the current crisis by directing states to promptly restore benefits that are stolen due to skimming and by confirming that the federal government will reimburse states for the replacement costs. Meanwhile, USDA must—as quickly as possible –develop and implement more secure systems for accessing critical nutrition benefits.
We appreciate your attention to this urgent matter to ensure SNAP households are not held accountable for the acts of skimming rings in their communities and are not left without food to feed their families due to the theft of their SNAP benefits.