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Wisconsin Expands its Definition of Food Stamp Violations

Gov. Walker updated Wisconsin's laws on Monday, regarding what constitutes food stamp trafficking - and imposed criminal penalties on violations. The Legislature forwarded the changes to him.

What people have long referred to as food stamps, are actually federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP benefits. In Wisconsin, the program is called FoodShare.

'Trafficking' has generally meant buying, selling or transferring food benefits, and a common offense has been recipients selling their benefit cards, then obtaining replacements.

The new state law spells out specific offenses. They include:

-- Buying, selling, stealing or exchanging SNAP benefits for cash or other considerations  

-- Exchanging firearms, ammunition, explosives or controlled substances for SNAP benefits

--  Using SNAP benefits to purchase foods with a container deposit, for the sole purpose of returning the container for a cash refund

-- Reselling food purchased with SNAP benefits

-- Purchasing food previously purchased with SNAP benefits

The changes bring Wisconsin into alignment with new federal guidelines. Penalties will now range from sanctions to fines to felony charges, depending on the cash value of the benefits and the number of offenses against an individual.

In Wisconsin, an estimated 850,000 people receive food stamp benefits - about 15% of the population.