The Agriculture Department wants to start treating illegal traffickers in food stamps the way the government handles drug dealers: Buy a car, house or even a cigarette boat with the proceeds and the feds will seize it as their own.
The department plans to propose legislation Wednesday making it easier to catch owners of grocery stores that reap an estimated $1 billion a year through illegal trafficking in the stamps.
Agriculture Undersecretary Ellen Haas promised last week that the Clinton administration would work with Congress to reform the $27 billion program, which helps 27 million poor people buy groceries, as farm-state lawmakers blocked a Republican attempt to disband it.
In a typical trafficking case, a recipient sells food stamps for cash to an authorized grocer for less than face value, generally 50 to 70 cents on the dollar. The retailer is then reimbursed the full amount from the Federal Reserve system.
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