NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 1, 1997

The U.S. Department of Agriculture admits it has been sending food stamps to the households of prison inmates and including the inmate in the count of household residents eligible for the largess. USDA puts the cost of fraudulent or mistaken claims at $1.7 billion annually.

  • In fiscal 1995, some $22 billion in food stamps were issued.
  • When the General Accounting Office compared food stamp and state prison rolls in Florida, New York and Texas, and local jail rolls in four counties representing major cities (Houston, Los Angeles, Miami and New York), it found households in those areas improperly collected an estimated $3.5 million in food stamp benefits.
  • Extrapolating from that figure, the nationwide overpayment for prisoners could range from $8.75 million to more than $14 million.

That's a lot of groceries.

The GAO report recommends a simple computer check of food stamp lists against prison population data -- calling such a comparison a cost-effective means of reducing overpayments.

Source: Nick Gillespie, "Food for Naught," Reason, June 1997.


Browse more articles on Tax and Spending Issues