Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) was joined by New York State Senators Roxanne J. Persaud and Brian P. Kavanagh, New York State Assemblymembers Khaleel Anderson, Jessica González-Rojas, and Marcela Mitaynes, and advocates to announce the SNAP Theft Protection Act, federal legislation that would modernize the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to better protect beneficiaries from having their benefits stolen through identity theft and skimming scams.
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. New York State reports that thousands of New Yorkers have had their EBT cards skimmed and benefits stolen this year, losing a total value of more than $730,000.
Senator Gillibrand’s legislation would allow families conned in skimming scams to recover their SNAP EBT benefits by directing states to promptly reissue stolen benefits to affected households using already allocated federal funds. The legislation would also help states track SNAP skimming data to determine the pervasiveness of the crime, and develop mechanisms to enhance security technology.
“Every day, 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 U.S. Senator Gillibrand. “These scammers are targeting some of our most vulnerable communities. It’s a disgrace, and we must meet the need to stop people from having their SNAP benefits stolen without recourse. 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. Once the use of paper food stamps was phased out, USDA never issued updated regulations to reflect changes in technology. That’s why I’m calling on 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.”
“The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is a crucial lifeline to more than 2.8 million New Yorkers. But when recipients have their benefits stolen, deserving New Yorkers are unable to get their stolen benefits replaced, seriously hampering the household budgets of families and individuals in need. We are grateful to Senator Gillibrand for her leadership and for putting forward a needed federal solution to this nationwide problem,” said New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance Commissioner Daniel W. Tietz.
“SNAP theft and skimming schemes target disabled and older New Yorkers every single day, further exacerbating widespread food insecurity,” said New York State Senator J. Persaud, Chair of the NYS Senate Social Services Committee. “Senator Gillibrand’s legislation will bring about a significant federal policy change by authorizing the re-issuance of stolen or skimmed SNAP benefits using federal funds. Victims of SNAP theft have limited recourse as there are currently no available means to reissue these stolen federal benefits. I thank Senator Gillibrand for introducing this crucial legislation.”
“Every stolen dollar of SNAP benefits is a dollar that struggling New Yorkers can no longer use to put food on the table for their families. These are the same families that are disproportionately impacted by generational poverty and food insecurity,” said New York State Senator Assemblymember González-Rojas, a member of the Assembly’s Social Services Committee. “I thank Senator Gillibrand for introducing legislation that would prevent public benefit theft, which has caused many New Yorkers to lose hundreds of dollars of assistance. I look forward to supporting the Senator’s efforts and will be introducing legislation in Albany to clarify social services and permit the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance to replace stolen public assistance.”
“Hundreds of working-class families, primarily of color, are on edge wondering whether or not the next time they go to purchase food for their families, they will have money on their cards,” said New York State Senator Assemblymember Khaleel M. Anderson. “I am devastated to hear these reports of theft firsthand, as the missing money covers months and thousands of dollars, something many of these families cannot recover from. I am pleased to join Senator Gillibrand and this rally to call for the passage of the SNAP Theft Protection Act before the end of the year so our working families and children can be reimbursed for those missing months and not get entrapped by that financial gap.”
“SNAP theft is an issue felt deeply amongst low-income and immigrant communities like mine in Sunset Park, Red Hook, and Bay Ridge. No one should have to scramble to put food on the table after finding their government benefits drained overnight,” said New York State Assemblymember Mitaynes. “That’s why I am so thrilled to join Senator Gillibrand in expanding our fight from New York to the whole country. It’s time to protect the victims of theft and reimburse them for their rightful benefits– in every state.”
“Already-struggling New Yorkers should not face the double whammy of having their meager food benefits stolen from them, with no recourse to get them replaced,” said Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, a national direct service and advocacy organization headquartered in New York City. “Stolen food benefits increase hunger, reduce income for local food retailers and farmers markets, and harm health by making it more difficult for families to obtain nutritious foods. I thank Senator Gillibrand for introducing this vital bill to address this problem in a common-sense, compassionate, manner. She continues to be one of the nation’s top champions in the fight against domestic hunger.”
“It is unacceptable that our clients and all low-income New Yorkers who have had their SNAP benefits stolen through no fault of their own are facing food insecurity going into the holiday,” said Alex MacDougall, staff attorney in the Civil Law Reform Unit at The Legal Aid Society. “We call on the USDA to directly authorize states to immediately restore stolen benefits and strengthen EBT card technologies to prevent future skimming. Additionally, Congress must pass pending legislation to codify protections for victims of skimming and other forms of benefits theft. We thank Senator Gillibrand for her leadership on this issue and standing up for vulnerable New Yorkers.”
“EBT systems– like credit cards – should take basic measures to protect users against fraud,” said Kristin Brown, Empire Justice Center President and CEO. “Families receiving SNAP benefits are the most food insecure households already, and our systems are putting them at unnecessary risk. Over 4,000 New Yorkers have already been victimized, and surely more will be, if we do not address this. It’s time to treat these families fairly – by getting SNAP delivery systems up to date and by reimbursing the victims of skimming who have had their benefits stolen. Empire Justice Center is grateful for Senator Gillibrand’s leadership in addressing an issue of basic fairness for the lowest-income New Yorkers.”
In October, Senator Gillibrand, along with Representatives Grace Meng (D-NY-6) and Nydia Velázquez (D-NY-7), led their colleagues in sending a letter urging action from USDA to better protect SNAP beneficiaries at risk of having their benefits stolen through skimming scams. The 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-12), Paul Tonko (D-NY-20), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY-14), and Kathleen Rice (D-NY-4). You can read the full letter HERE.
Click HERE for more information on how to protect yourself from becoming a victim of skimming scams.