Congress Must Take Bold and Immediate Action to Address EBT Skimming Crisis
December 15, 2022
CalFresh (SNAP) is the first line of defense against hunger, lifting over 2 million Californians out of poverty, and providing critical food benefits to more than 4.7 million people. About 81% of households who receive benefits include a child, elderly individual or a person with disabilities.
This past year, California and several other states have seen a dramatic increase in benefits being stolen electronically through “skimming” and phishing crimes. Skimming occurs when a device is covertly placed on an ATM or POS (point of sale) machine to capture the PIN and the data stored on the magnetic strip of a payment card. This happens without the beneficiary ever knowing that it has happened, and the criminals who have stolen the EBT card information then use it to duplicate the card and use it at stores that accept EBT cards.
Across California and in the last year alone, the California Department of Social Services estimates that more than $2.5M in CalFresh benefits that were stolen (and have subsequently been replaced), while news reports suggest that the total amount of stolen benefits (both CalFresh and CalWORKs) total upwards of $3M per month. Just this past September, 16 criminals in Los Angeles were prosecuted, and we know the problem is becoming more rampant across the state.
We are asking that in the earliest possible legislative vehicle, Congressional leaders take two actions to address this crisis:
Impact of EBT Skimming on California Communities
The way that CalFresh recipients typically find out that their benefits have been stolen is while at the grocery store, assuming they have their expected balance on their card, only to find out that their benefits have been wiped out when they try to pay for their groceries:
“It’s the only way I can take care of my bills, my rent, medical, medicine any other things I need to take care of me and my son,” said Monroe, who as a disabled single mother, relies solely on public assistance, which she receives on an EBT card.
She was targeted by scammers last month, when she had nearly $700 stolen from her card the day funds were deposited, leaving her with just $6.51 for all of her bills.
Thankfully California replaces up to one-month’s value of stolen CalFresh benefits, making our state the only state in the country that replaces any skimmed benefits, but the theft has to be reported within 10-days, making it challenging for people to report it.
California’s Leadership in Mitigating Harm from EBT Skimming
California has been working diligently over the last 10 years to alert federal partners to the detrimental impact of EBT card skimming, and we have also proactively worked to mitigate this harm through state policy and budget investments.
We Call on Congressional Leaders to Take Immediate Action
On December 9, Senator Bradford and a bipartisan coalition of 28 California legislators sent a letter to the California Congressional Delegation asking for immediate federal action on the EBT skimming crisis. This letter asks Congress to provide critical relief, with funding to replace the stolen benefits, coupled with ongoing improvements to EBT benefit security to limit this theft going forward. We applaud these California senators and assemblymembers for signing on to this letter and we urge Congress to prioritize a solution to this crisis in the soonest possible legislative vehicle in the 117th Congress.