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1:03 PM

USDA uses "common-sense flexibility" in authorizing the purchase of hot and prepared foods by SNAP beneficiaries who were victims of Hurricane Florence

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The deprivation and pain caused by the recent Hurricane Florence flooding almost exceeds our ability to comprehend.

One group that has comprehended it and is doing something about it is the Food and Nutrition Service of USDA. FNS runs an assortment of food programs that include SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps)

Because of the Hurricane Florence-induced hardships inflicted on North Carolina, including disruption in power supplies which limits the ability to cook during the recovery phase of the hurricane, FNS is allowing SNAP participants to use their electronic benefits to purchase hot and prepared foods.

FNS’s waiver of its regulation against using SNAP benefits to buy previously heated and prepared food will be in effect in North Carolina (where the hurricane first came ashore) until October 31 of this year.

In announcing the waiver, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue took into account that SNAP beneficiaries who have been evacuated to shelters lack the ability to store fresh food and probably lack access to cooking facilities.

In a news release, Secretary Purdue called the policy “common-sense flexibility”

Under ordinary circumstance,beneficiaries are forbidden from using their electronic benefits for pre-heated and food prepared for immediate consumption.

USDA notes that food stores authorized to accept SNAP benefits may requirer a day or two to prepare for accepting the electronic SNAP benefit in exchange for hot and prepared food.

On September 16, USDA also approved another waiver that extends the time period that North Carolina SNAP beneficiaries have to submit reimbursement claims for food spoiled or otherwise lost due to Hurricane Florence. That deadline to report food loss is now October 15.

USDA may consider additional policy waivers or procedural changes to ease the burden of North Carolina SNAP participants adversely affected by Hurricane Florence. For up-to-date information on FNS assistance, visit www.fns.usda.gov/disaster.
2:22 PM

States as the incubators of fraud-fighting policy in safety net programs

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States because of their proximity to people served have the ability to act as incubators of proposed public policy.

This is the case when tackling the thorny issue of fraud in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps).

The federal agency charged with managing SNAP, the Food and Nutrition Service, is partnering with 10 states on what it calls the SNAP Fraud Framework which combines analytics with innovative electronic-payments industry fraud-fighting concepts and techniques to defeat potential SNAP fraudsters.

The Framework provides states with fraud-fighting tools that include analytics and data management, fraud detection, performance measurement, and investigation tools.

This collaborative effort, combining Federal resources with state knowledge  is a good example of the concept of federalism the Framers intended in the Constitute.

Another cooperative fraud-fighting area has been the Food and Nutrition Service’s long campaign to replace the paper food stamp benefit with electronic-benefits transfer systems which use plastic electronic cards with personal identification numbers, similar to bank cards. It is more difficult to scam the system with EBT cards than it was with paper food coupons.

FNS sets guidelines for EBT technology and the states are responsible for running the systems. In another cooperative action, Congress funds the ability of state EBT systems to be interoperable, so that EBT cardholders in one state can use their cards in another state. Cooperatively, the federal agency and the states share the administrative costs of these electronic systems.

The topic of waste, fraud and abuse in the nation’s safety net for poorer Americans has been a never-ending debate among lawmakers and the public for decades, but no program has garnered more attention in this area than SNAP. Anecdotes of program misuse true or not abound in the media.

This much we know is true, the program provides essential nutrition to over 40 million Americans each year at a cost of some 70 billion dollars. SNAP has attracted attention because its cost has almost doubled over the last decade, a period that has seen significant economic turmoil.

That is not to say that abuse doesn’t occur. As the program’s expenditures have grown for legitimate reasons, so too has fraud as criminals have tried to capitalize on the nation’s goodness. Nevertheless law enforcement pursues the fraudsters. In the early 1980s the work of a federal task force of 900 G men led to almost 1400 indictments. From that time to now the rate of fraud has dropped from about 4 cents on the dollar in the early 1990s to about 1 cent in the mid-2000s. Today, the fraud rate is less than 1.5 today.

However, that 1.5 fraud rate represents a lot of money. In 2012 the cost of fraud was estimated at nearly 370 million dollars, a sum that a short 4 years later was estimated to have risen to almost 600 million.

During this 4 year span the number of fraud investigations rose by some 30%. almost half of those investigations were in one state, New York.

 Pinning down program fraud, is a difficult venture. during this 4 year period the number of eligible beneficiaries declined while fraud rose. Normally, we would expect the two rates to rise or fall together. 
11:54 AM

Is the new iPhone worth mortgaging your financial future

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On September 12, Apple will launch its new iPhone. A survey by the personal finance website, WalletHub, released today shows that some 28 million people think that getting one of the new iPhones is worth going into debt for.


  1. Millennials were 5 times more likely to agree that possessing the new iPhone is worth going into debt.
  2. According to WalletHub, nearly 30 percent of those shopping for a cell phone don't realize that they might have to undergo a credit check when trying to purchase the phone.
  3. Almost 187 million Americans trust Apple and Google to handle their personal data more than they trust the government.
  4. Nearly 20 percent of people would rather have unlimited phone data than an excellent credit score.

In that same vein, 44 percent of millennials think that their cell phone has more of an impact on their live than their credit score.

The stock market is booming, not in small part due to Apple and its signature product.  Veteran investor, Warren Buffett's whose Berkshire Hathaway company owns a big stake in Apple has called the iPhone "indispensable" to many people.

Has the iPhone craze gone to far when consumers are willing to risk debt to acquire one. Not that long ago in the US, debt was a condition to be avoided at all cost. Apparently no longer.

However, an iPhone which also functions as a miniature computer can be viewed as an investment in the future of what in becoming an increasingly mobile economy, according to the WalletHub piece.