By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog
SANTA FE – A bill that toughens penalties for those who try to trade food stamps and EBT cards for cash passed 65-0 in the New Mexico House of Representatives on Saturday and the bill’s sponsor thinks the chances are good that the measure can get through the Legislature before the 30-day legislative session ends Thursday.
“You have instances where people were continually committing fraud and we couldn’t really aggregate those into a felony,” said Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque of House Bill 229. “That’s what this bill will do.”
Across the country, there have been reports of people going on Craigslist and offering to sell food stamps, Women, Infants and Children (WIC) checks or electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards for cash.
Here in New Mexico, a gas station attendant in Albuquerque was caught on tape by KOB-TV trading $200 in food stamps for $100 in cash.
Last May, a couple from Farmington was arrested and charged with entering false transactions for food purchases using food stamps and then giving half the money they were reimbursed to the holder of the food stamps.
“It’s really easy to sell (food stamps and EBT cards),” Youngblood said. “People stand outside grocery stores and actually offer them for half their value. I hear from teachers that kids are coming to school hungry and that shouldn’t be the case in our state, especially with the amount of public assistance we have.”
HB229 would add gradations of severity, so that convictions for cashing in on more than $500 in assistance programs would amount to a fourth-degree felony; more than $2,500 would equal a third-degree felony and more than $20,000 would be a second-degree felony.
Youngblood’s bill sailed through two committees and the House floor without a dissenting vote. It now heads to the Senate.
“I’m hoping to get it fast-tracked through the Senate,” Youngblood said.
Here’s an excerpt of our New Mexico Watchdog interview with Youngblood:
Contact Rob Nikolewski at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski