The USDA has announced tough new measures as a part of ongoing effortsto ensure integrity in the nation's nutrition safety net, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

"Where there is a will to commit malfeasance, bad actors will try to find a way, and we must do everything we can to stay ahead of the curve," said Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon. "Today's announcement reaffirms USDA's ongoing commitment to cracking down on abuse and protecting taxpayers' investment in this critical nutrition lifeline."

Theannouncement codifies an expanded legal definition of "trafficking" that incorporates not only the direct exchange of SNAP benefits for cash but other indirect methods of obtaining cash for SNAP benefits. The expanded definition now includes so-called "water dumping," or the purchase of beverages in containers with returnable deposits for the sole purpose of discarding the contents and returning the containers to obtain cash refund deposits; and the sale or purchase of products originally purchased with SNAP benefits for purposes of exchanging those products for cash or other items.

USDA is also seeking comment on a new proposal that would authorize itto immediately suspend payments to retailers suspected of flagrant trafficking violations from accepting SNAP benefits. Currently, when a retailer is suspected of trafficking, USDA must first conduct an investigation before suspending the retailer. If USDA determines that a retaileris a flagrant trafficker, the department would be authorized to immediately suspend its redemptions. Such a step would happen concurrently with the retailer being charged; thereby allowing the department to hold funds that might ultimately be forfeited by the store if the disqualification is upheld.

USDA has front line responsibility for overseeing and enforcing the law with respect to the more than 238,000 retailers that are authorized to accept SNAP benefits. While the vast majority of businesses participating in SNAP are honest and play by the rules, USDA continues to strengthen sanctions against those few bad actors seeking to take advantage of the program. Last year, USDA compliance analysts and investigators took action topermanently disqualify 1,387 stores for trafficking in SNAP benefits(i.e. exchanging SNAP benefits for cash) or falsifying an application.

SNAP --the nation's first line of defense against hunger --helps put food on the table for millions of low income families and individuals every month. The largest of USDA's 15 nutrition assistance programs, it has never been more critical to the fight against hunger. Nearly half of SNAP participants are children and more than 40 percent of recipients live in households with earnings.

For more information about USDA efforts to combat fraud, visit the Stop SNAP fraud website at www.fns.usda.gov/snap/fraud