People on public assistance who have had their benefits stolen through “skimming” fraud could finally have that money repaid under a new federal bill introduced Friday by U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillbrand, the New York Democrat.
The bill would order states to quickly reissue stolen federal money to the rightful beneficiary, announced the senator, who was accompanied by state lawmakers, at the Chinese-American Planning Council’s senior center on Grand Street in Manhattan.
It would also offer states federal help to track data from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) cards and find ways to strengthen security on them.
THE CITY reported earlier this month that thousands of New Yorkers have had their public benefits stolen through “skimming” fraud on credit card reading machines.
Their private data is stolen via secretly installed devices on the card readers, then sent to fraudsters who create fake cards and drain accounts.
“Every day, more low-income households are at risk of losing their SNAP benefits and facing hunger without the possibility of justice,” Gillibrand said in a statement.
“People who rely on SNAP benefits to feed themselves and their families face an even [greater] risk of food insecurity and economic instability when their SNAP benefits are stolen,” she said.
Gillibrand also called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to update its SNAP program, noting many of the regulations are based on a time when food stamps were doled out as pieces of paper, not debit cards.
“Every stolen dollar of SNAP benefits is a dollar that struggling New Yorkers can no longer use to put food on the table for their families,” said Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas (D-Queens), who joined Gillibrand at the senior center in calling for the changes.
At least $730,000 in public benefits has been taken across New York this year, according to data from the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA).
That stolen money has been spent across the United States, according to lawyers from The Legal Aid Society, which has represented many of the victims.
The OTDA previously told THE CITY it was working with the USDA to find ways to enhance the safety of benefits cards.
In a statement, OTDA Commissioner Daniel Tietz noted more than 2.8 million New Yorkers use SNAP.
“But when recipients have their benefits stolen, deserving New Yorkers are unable to get their stolen benefits replaced, seriously hampering the household budgets of families and individuals in need,” he said.
“We are grateful to Sen. Gillibrand for her leadership and for putting forward a needed federal solution to this nationwide problem.”