Can the food stamp program access my bank accounts?

  • Question: Can the DSS find out if you have money in other bank accounts when applying for SNAP, TANF and other emergency cash benefits?

    DSS will verify all the information that you provide with your application for assistance. If you are not truthful or hiding funds, at some point or another an event will happen indicating you have unreported funds elsewhere and I would not look forward to that happening regardless of how long I got away with it.

    DSS has several established methods in place for checking applicants including:

    • contacting an employer or a landlord to double-check your home, rent, and who lives with you.
    • regularly check what wages get reported to your social security number.
    • look at state and national computers that may have info about you or your family.
    • check to see if you are getting child support.
    • check for unreported bank accounts (probably the same method debt collection agencies use when requesting balances from several different banks).
    • your neighbors /family/friends can also report you for fraud if the have good reason to suspect guilt.

    When they find unreported bank accounts or other assets you have, you will most likely be charged with fraud. Unless you can prove you “forgot” about those accounts they will take measures against you.

    DSS will open an investigation to look at your claim in depth. Fraud Early Detection (FRED) is a special DSS unit. They investigate when a DSS worker believes you may not be telling the truth about your situation.

    DSS may send a FRED investigator to your home to interview you or your neighbors. DSS uses the info they gather to:

    • end your cash/food stamps/medical benefits, or
    • establish an “overpayment” of past benefits you’ve collected.

    If you’ve been accused of fraud you’ll need an attorney right away. Be sure to request a copy of your “FRED report.” Your lawyer should talk to the investigator about what they’ve concluded and why. The investigator may have relied on false info from a third party. It could be a simple as the investigator having drawn the wrong conclusion or more serious as they discovered your unreported bank ac count or funds.

    Example: They see an unfamiliar car parked outside your home and conclude that person is living with you. In fact, the car has broken down and you allowed the owner to leave it there until the owner can fix it.

    Your Rights

    • You do not have to talk to a FRED investigator. Talk first to a lawyer. Make sure you present your case clearly.
    • You do not have to let the FRED investigator into your home without a search warrant. Ask the investigator to come back when your representative is there.
    • They must tell you these rights verbally and in writing, in your native language. They must give this info to adult recipients, not children.
    • DSS cannot deny you benefits just because you refuse to talk to the investigator or let him into your home.
    • You can look at your file and get copies of anything in it.

    If DSS believes it was your mistake, they will generally call it a “household error” and ask you to pay it back. If they determine you provided all info correctly and they made the mistake, they call it an “administrative” or “agency” error. Then you’ll need to work with them to correct any errors.

    Or,

    They may refer you for criminal prosecution. The

    • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): There must first be an Administrative Disqualification Hearing.
    • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Medical Assistance: They can send a notice of intentional overpayment without a hearing.

    You need find out why DSS has determined that this is fraud. Tell your worker right away you want an “administrative hearing” if you disagree.

    Get legal advice before talking to DSS about this. Otherwise, you may find yourself owing DSS money and facing serious criminal charges.

    If you believe DSS is counting income/resources they should not, contact a supervisor or legal services office for help. It is always best to report any funds you have or will receive. Working with them honestly is in your best interests and much easier to get the help you need rather than facing fraud charges.

    Report any fraud you suspect. Fraud reports of any kind may be filed with the USDA Office of Inspector General. Call. (800) 424-9121.

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