John Faso knows where the votes are.
He does not know where the fraud is
It’s as simple as that.
Faso, the Republican from Kinderhook now serving his first term in Congress representing the 19th District in New York, is a member of the House Agriculture Committee and has emerged as the chief proponent of a crackdown on what he portrays as widespread fraud and abuse in food stamps, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
He knows that there is fraud because those who enforce the laws in his district tell him so.
He quotes sheriffs in the district as saying that “every drug dealer they arrest has a SNAP card in his pocket.” Faso even gets a laugh when he points out that drug dealing is a cash business.
In reality, as Columbia County Sheriff David Bartlett told a local reporter, “When we serve warrants, we do often find benefit cards on people. … If we can provide evidence, we pursue charges for defrauding the system.”
How often? How many get charged? How many get convicted? How many are charged with tax avoidance?
Nobody seems to know but that does not matter because Faso is not out for justice, he’s out for votes, appealing to those who supported him in the past by crusading as the guy who makes sure that those people who would cheat the hardworking taxpayer will not get away with it while he is in Washington.
So just how big is this problem that Faso is solving?
It turns out that the people who run the SNAP program have been on it for a while, have constantly improved their responses. According to the latest audited reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the fraud rate was about 4 cents on the dollar in 1993 and had dropped to 1 cent by 2006.
And if Faso is interested in more detail, as a member of the Agriculture Committee he should know about the work of the Office of the Inspector General of the Department, about the 4,500 undercover investigations, the 1,400 stores permanently disqualified from participation, the hundreds of convictions including some with multi-year jail sentences and the $50 million-plus recovered.
As for his parallel crusade to get more people to work before they get help, he should know that even in his district more than half of the recipients are disabled or elderly and that 40 percent already hold a job.
Yet if he has his way, they will have to jump through more bureaucratic hoops to keep receiving groceries, an odd demand from someone who claims to want to get government off the backs of the people.
Yes, there is fraud. Yes, the Ag Department is fighting it. Yes, it is doing a very good job.
But that’s not what Faso is after. He wants votes and if it takes a bit of grandstanding, a Trump-like crusade with a solution that takes a toll not on the criminals who are already under scrutiny but the 44 million Americans with low incomes, the majority women and children, well that’s just so much collateral damage.