It certainly caught our attention. A viewer emailed us a grocery store receipt with a food stamp balance listed as $12,000.
We wanted to know how this could happen, wo we sent Target 11 Investigator Rick Earle out to get some answers.
At first, we thought it might be typo or an accounting mistake, but then we discovered that it is the real thing.
This person actually had a food stamp balance of more than $12,000. And this set off a firestorm of controversy from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg.
We showed the receipt to people who use food stamps and they couldn't believe it.
"I wish I had that money on there. I mean I can really use it. I mean like I said $28, compared to that and I'd be eating like a millionaire," said one food stamp recipient.
"It's really confusing, more than upsetting because I don't quite understand how they did it," said another recipient.
Earle then showed the receipt to the secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, the office that administers the food stamp program.
Earle asked the secretary if the high balance is a concern.
"Yes it is. I don't understand why that is," said Beverly Mackereth, the secretary, who requested a copy of the receipt and vowed to investigate further.
"This is something that we should show the feds. Perhaps they don't even realize this is happening. We will check it out," she told Earle.
According to a DPW spokesperson, under federal law they can't shut down an account unless it's been inactive for 12 months. And the spokesperson said while high balances are unusual they are not illegal. They told Earle they've seen cases where a person is suffering from a mental illness and just doesn't use the benefit, or a person grows their own food and stockpiles the benefits. The food stamp benefits roll over at the end of the month.
"For government to allow that type of a balance to occur, I mean there ought to be audits of every one of these accounts," said state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, Cranberry (R), who argued that a person with that high balance doesn't really need assistance every month.
Target 11 discovered nearly two million people in Pennsylvania are on food stamps. It costs taxpayers $231 million
"I think for taxpayers who are working hard every day to make a living to make ends meet for them to see a receipt like this would create outrage and rightly so," said Metcalfe.
We wanted to know how many accounts have high balances, but the state refused to release that information to us. The Department of Public Welfare also wouldn't release any specific information about the account with that $12,000 balance. The department did say, however, that they do investigate any and all suspicious activity.
Right now, there is legislation pending in Congress that addresses this very issue.
It would give individual states the right to shut down an account after only three months of inactivity.
Target 11 will continue to follow this and let you know what happens.
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