Okla. panel approves food stamp restrictions

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Associated Press

Posted on April 2, 2013 at 11:06 AM

Updated Tuesday, Apr 2 at 11:06 AM

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma House committee advanced a bill Monday to fix what its author says is a legal quirk that allows some people to keep collecting food stamp benefits even after being convicted of food stamp fraud.

The Human Services Committee approved it with a 6-3 vote Monday; all three Democrats on the panel voted no. The bill has already passed the Senate and now goes to the full House for consideration.

The proposal, introduced by Oklahoma City Sen. David Holt, a Republican, explicitly states that unauthorized sharing of food stamps in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is fraud and potentially a felony punishable by two years of prison time.

Holt told The Associated Press his bill wouldn't apply to benefits shared among family members or to people who use food stamps on behalf of someone else — a grandson shopping for his grandparents, for instance.

"I mean, it's just as simple as that's not yours to give," Holt said. "When we as a community agree to help someone out, we agree to help that person, not their friends."

Holt said the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, which administers the SNAP program, requested the bill. He said the department told him about 90 people admitted to or were convicted of food stamp fraud last year, with only a handful serving prison time.

The DHS legal department and Inspector General Tony Bryan didn't return phone calls seeking comment Monday afternoon.

With an amendment approved by the committee Monday, the bill now also tells district attorneys to ask people who admit to fraud to give up their food stamp benefits in exchange for a lighter, deferred sentence.

"There's already a disqualification consent agreement that the DA is supposed to present," Rep. Randy Grau, who's carrying the bill in the House, told the Human Services Committee. "This says they have to."

Currently, Holt said, federal law stops DHS from automatically cutting off benefits after a fraud conviction.

"A deferred sentence is something a district attorney does out of mercy and efficiency, and a good outcome can come without you having to go to prison," Holt said. "We're just ensuring that it's on the table."

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