Wisconsin’s Assembly approved a measure Tuesday that would penalize people for buying, selling or transferring food stamp benefits for cash or trading them for drugs or guns.
Supporters of the measure said it provides local district attorneys with the opportunity to prosecute people who trade in benefits for cash, a problem state agencies said is recurring.
"This gives local district attorneys and local law enforcement officers a tool in the toolbox that hasn't been there for them," said Rep. Samantha Kerkman, R-Powers Lake, who sponsored the measure.
The state’s Health Services Department reports more than 200 people got kicked out of the state’s food stamp program last year, and investigations recovered more than $6 million from fraudsters.
“There is nothing that undermines a program more in the public’s eyes than a perception that fraud is rampant,” said Assembly Speaker Rep. Robin Vos, R-Bloomington.
The bill passed 73-24 with some support from Democrats, though several members of the party highlighted concerns with it.
Democrats called the bill “misguided” and “mean-spirited,” saying it penalizes the poor instead of helping people in need. They added the measure is a solution in need of a problem.
“Not one district attorney in the state of Wisconsin, and that’s 72, not one of them asked for this bill,” Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie, said of the bill.
The measure passed easily through the Assembly and will head to the Republican-controlled Senate next.
It is already illegal to fraudulently apply for food stamps or transfer benefits to someone who doesn’t quality, but that law does not address penalties for trafficking.