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8/1/2016 Corvese bill targeting SNAP benefits misuse becomes law
STATE HOUSE – Legislation sponsored by Rep. Arthur J. Corvese to prevent misuse of the food assistance program has become law.

The legislation, which Representative Corvese has introduced in various forms for four years, would ban the use of electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) at establishments that specialize in products aimed at adults, like liquor stores.

“For the integrity of the program, for the sake of making sure that families are not going hungry because of misspent assistance funds and to make sure that our limited resources for food assistance aren’t wasted, we need these safeguards,” said Representative Corvese (D-Dist. 55, North Providence). “Food assistance is for food, and anybody who is involved in diverting it for other purposes is committing fraud.”

The bill (2016-H 7203), which became law on July 19, would prohibit EBT transactions at liquor stores, casinos and other gambling facilities and retail establishments that provide entertainment involving nudity.

While some of those establishments may sell some products that are food — for instance liquor stores that sell lemons — allowing them to process EBT transactions provides too wide an opportunity for fraudulent use of SNAP funds, said Representative Corvese. At least 25 other states have laws placing restrictions on the use of EBT cards.

Under the bill, recipients who make purchases in violation of the prohibition would be punished by having their assistance docked for one month for the amount assigned to one parent in that family for a first offense, for three months for a second offense, and for a year for subsequent offenses.

Store owners who knowingly allow such fraudulent transactions would also be punished. A first offense would be a misdemeanor subject to a fine of up to $500, with the fine rising to between $500 and $2,500 for second violations. A third or subsequent offense becomes a felony punishable by a fine of no less than $2,500. Stores with liquor or lottery licenses would be reported to their licensing agencies for punishment, and the Department of Human Services would also be empowered to suspend or revoke any other kind of license applicable.

Representative Corvese said his resolve to see the legislation enacted was strengthened by a 2013 incident in which 11 people convicted of defrauding the federal SNAP program of $3.6 million through convenience stores in Providence and Warwick. In that case, a two-year federal investigation found the store owners and employees let SNAP recipients exchange their SNAP benefits for cash.

The legislation was cosponsored by Rep. Helio Melo (D-Dist. 64, East Providence), Rep. Samuel A. Azzinaro (D-Dist. 37, Westerly), Rep. Thomas D. Winfield (D-Dist. 53, Smithfield, Glocester) and Rep. Stephen R. Ucci (D-Dist. 42, Johnston, Cranston). Companion legislation (2016-S 2040A) sponsored in the Senate by Sen. William A. Walaska (D-Dist. 30, Warwick) also passed into law.

For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-1923