BALTIMORE COUNTY, Md. — Although Thanksgiving is a time for families to get together and eat, the holiday is also a reminder for many low-income individuals that putting food on the table is still a struggle.
Many people who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and other cash assistance from the federal government faced challenges this year. Thieves have targeted some SNAP recipients through skimming and cloning devices, a nationwide problem addressed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
In Maryland, the number of victims has exponentially grown.
The Maryland Department of Human Services reports families have lost more than $1 million in SNAP benefits compared to the total reported losses of $92,000 the year before. As of Nov. 2, 2022, there were 1,413 incidents of EBT fraud, a giant spike from the total last year at just 137.
“They're [thieves] targeting people who are experiencing poverty and that's outrageous,” Michael J. Wilson of the Maryland Hunger Solutions said. “Part of the challenge I think for folks is having to admit you've been taken advantage this way. There's a shame and a stigma to it, which is already a challenge dealing with SNAP benefits in general.”
One of the victims was Bridget Jackson, who had benefits from her electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card stolen on multiple occasions since May. She currently relies on the monthly federal assistance of $600 as her only source of income.
“I have a cutoff notice for my gas that's on the 3rd and I don't have no money to pay that?” Jackson said. “How am I going to pay my bills when this has been going on since May?”
WUSA9 first profiled Jackson hours after she learned someone had wiped out her card after she used it a local ATM machine. She was worried about paying her bills and having money for the holidays.
On Thanksgiving Day, she and her daughter are able to cook up a meal thanks to the new SNAP benefits she received for the month. Her daughter’s teacher also donated some cash to assist them during this time.
“I'm trying to find something here to fix so I can have some type of food for Thanksgiving,” Jackson said. “They need to do something because I'm scared.”
Unlike the District, Maryland is unable to reimburse victims because federal regulations prohibit states from replacing SNAP benefits using federal funds, according to a statement from MDH.
U.S. House Representative Dutch Ruppersberger (D) of Maryland has introduced a bill into Congress to rectify this for victims. On Nov. 16, Ruppersberger introduced bill H.R.9319 to amend the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008.
This action will provide for the reissuance to households supplemental nutrition assistance program benefits to replace benefits stolen by identity theft or typical skimming practices, and for other purposes. The bill will need to pass through the House and Senate before heading to the president's desk to be signed into law.