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Food stamps and food stamp fraud on the rise in Southwest and Central Virginia

November 09, 2011|Hollani Davis | Anchor/Reporter

Roanoke, Va. — Living paycheck to paycheck.  Does this describe you, your neighbor or someone close to you?  It's a daily struggle for millions of people across the country and thousands of families in our region.  In Virginia, if you make less than $2,000 a month you can qualify for food stamps.

The constant beeping tells grocery store cashiers what day it is.

"We're always busy on the first of the month," says Rett Ward, a grocery store owner in Roanoke.

For many shoppers, the first of the month means time to cash in with money from Virginia's Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program or SNAP.  You may know it as food stamps. 

In October 2007 a little more than 14,000 people in Roanoke City received SNAP benefits.  Four years later that number tops more than 23,000 thousand.

"Well it's just a tremendous growth that we've had," says Steve Martin who works for Roanoke's Social Services Department as the Chief Benefits Manager.

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Martin says many people continue to have a misconception that people on this program have never had a job.

"We are seeing people that have never been or come to what used to be called the Welfare Department and they're just people who've been working their whole lives and circumstances have made it to where their income has stopped," says Martin.

In the Bedford area, more than 2,000 people have applied for SNAP this year.  As that number increases, so does the number of people trying to dupe the system.

Irene Maxey is a full time fraud investigator.  In the past two years she estimates there have been about 440 cases in Bedford County where people weren't honest about their finances.

"Well, I've got one (case) where the overpayment was 30 some thousand dollars.  The client, the father of her children was living in the home, she didn't report him in the home and the father of her children had two timeshares," says Maxey.

So far this year, Bedford County has been able to recoup more than $117,000 in fraudulent cases, but there's still nearly $400,000 that people owe.  This is money there is no guarantee the county will recover.

It seems the lines at the grocery store get longer each month month.  The same goes mounds of paperwork and files. With no increase in the number of workers processing claims, they fear it could all be heading toward a system overload.

"Yes and it's going to get to the point where I mean I don't think we are going to be able to handle it," says Maxey.

To give you another idea of just how many people are getting food assistance, for the first time, Roanoke City hit the three million mark in August.   That's $3,000,000 administered to SNAP recipients to spend on groceries during that month.

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