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September 15, 2022

Pressley Joins McGovern, Mass. Lawmakers in Urging USDA to Secure SNAP System and Restore Stolen Benefits

In two months alone, thieves have stolen over $1 million in SNAP benefits from more than 2,000 households in Massachusetts

Text of Letter (PDF)

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) joined House Rules Committee Chairman James P. McGovern (D-MA) and their colleagues in the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation in calling on U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack to swiftly secure the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) electronic benefits transfer system and restore SNAP benefits stolen through an illegal process known as skimming.

Skimming occurs when criminals place a “skimming” device on an ATM or Point of Sale device to capture the PIN and data stored on the magnetic strip. The criminal then uses that information to duplicate the card and access the benefits in the SNAP beneficiary’s account.

“It’s unconscionable that our most vulnerable families who depend on SNAP to put food on the table would have their benefits stolen, and we must act urgently,” said Rep. Pressley in a statement alongside the letter. “With one in three adults in Massachusetts facing food insecurity, we’re calling on USDA to take immediate action to encourage states to reimburse victims of EBT skimming for the stolen funds and make SNAP’s systems more secure. Doing so would help make residents who were harmed whole, assist them in making ends meet, and prevent these cruel thefts from happening going forward. Food is a human right, and we must use every tool available to affirm it as such.”

“These people’s benefits were illegally scammed through no fault of their own. If this happened on a credit card, they would have likely been protected. It’s only fair that they have the same protections with SNAP, given that we have millions of hungry people in this country for whom SNAP is their lifeline to food,” said McGovern.

In two months alone, thieves have stolen over $1 million in SNAP benefits from more than 2,000 households in Massachusetts. More households are at risk of losing their benefits every month until the USDA helps states implement transfer technologies that are more secure than the current system and that are workable for households.

In part, the letter reads: “The risk of skimming has been apparent for a number of years, but, to the best of our knowledge, USDA has not issued regulations or established standards to help states implement more secure systems. USDA should immediately address the current crisis by directing states to promptly restore benefits that are stolen due to skimming and by confirming that the federal government will reimburse states for the replacement costs. Meanwhile, USDA must – as quickly as possible – develop and implement more secure systems for accessing critical nutrition benefits. We appreciate your attention to this urgent matter to ensure very low-income households do not go hungry due to the theft of their SNAP benefits.”

Throughout her time in Congress, Rep. Pressley has been a champion for addressing the crisis of food insecurity in Massachusetts and beyond.

In October, Rep. Pressley joined Congressman James P. McGovern (MA-02) and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) at a press conference to unveil legislation that would start the process of convening a national White House conference on food, nutrition, hunger, and health. In July 2022, Rep. Pressley, Project Bread, and local leaders and advocates held a district convening on food insecurity  ahead of the White House’s Conference on Hunger later this year.

Rep. Pressley has also led efforts to extend the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) child nutrition waiver authority, which has allowed millions of children in Massachusetts and across the nation to access free and healthy school meals during the pandemic. She delivered a floor speech renewing her calls for its extension last month and applauded the House’s passage of legislation to do so later that month.