WASHINGTON, DC - Senator David Vitter (R-La.) is continuing to put the heat on state officials, asking them to cut off and prosecute EBT card recipients who made purchases above their card limits during a computer outage in mid-October.
On Oct. 14, a glitch in a computer program didn't put limits on card benefits and at least two retailers in north Louisiana did not put the suggested $50 limit on cardholders, instead allowing them to purchase large amounts of food.
Some video showed shelves cleared and carts full of spoiling food left behind when the computer glitch was resolved. It is alleged that dozens of people purchased well beyond their normal card's limits.
Vitter asked state officials to not reimburse the retailers for anything over the $50 limit and officials concurred. In addition he asked for anyone who abused the card's limits to be cut off from card funds and to be prosecuted.
Vitter said Monday that he was displeased by the response from the state that he claimed would not seek to cut off recipients without USDA permission and that would not prosecute offenders without a complaint by the retailer.
“I’m extremely disappointed in the response I’ve gotten from state officials,” Vitter said. “There should be serious consequences for the outrageous theft and fraud at these Louisiana retailers, and the state has authority in disqualifying and prosecuting any guilty EBT recipient.”
The full text of Vitter's letter to Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and Suzy Sonnier of the Department of Children and Family Services is below.
Dear Attorney General Caldwell and Secretary Sonnier:
Thank you for your quick responses to my letter of October 30 regarding the outrageous incidents of food stamp theft and fraud in Louisiana on October 14.
Thank you also for clearly committing to not reimburse any vendor above any beneficiaries' benefit limits, my first request. Unfortunately, in contrast to this, I found your responses to my second and third requests really disappointing and inadequate.
My second request urged you to disqualify or suspend from the program beneficiaries guilty of this theft and fraud. In response to this, you basically stated that you are asking permission to pursue suspensions from the program from the Obama administration, namely USDA. Why? All relevant law clearly gives the state authority to administer the program, including authority to disqualify or suspend those guilty of theft or fraud (7 USC 2015(b)). You clearly do not have to get federal permission to do this with regard to every individual enforcement action.
So I again urge you to take such action in these cases without first asking permission unnecessarily from the Obama administration. Given the administration's support for the almost limitless expansion of the food stamp program, I think their granting this unnecessary permission unlikely.
My third request urged you to prosecute these same beneficiaries. In response to this, you stated that this decision is up to the retailers involved. No, it isn't. Such a prosecuting decision is always up to the public prosecutor with appropriate jurisdiction. Walmart and other retailers no doubt want to pass on urging prosecution because they screwed up and, quite frankly, because they benefit from most food stamp fraud in their stores.
So again, I urge you to form a task force with the prosecutors in the local jurisdictions involved to aggressively prosecute these crimes. As I stated in my October 30 letter, these prosecutions will be fully supported by ample computer/EBT account evidence and do not depend on the active cooperation of the retailers involved.
I would like to personally meet with both of you in Baton Rouge to discuss this further in the very near future. Thank you again for your service to Louisiana.