Congress will now require states to reissue stolen food assistance, part of a $1.7 trillion spending bill approved on Friday.

States are now authorized to use federal funds to replace benefits “that are determined by the State Agency to have been stolen through card skimming, card cloning or similar fraudulent methods” beginning Oct. 1, 2022 through Sept. 30, 2024.

Prior to the the bill’s passage, federal law prohibited states from using federal funds to reimburse victims, and did not require states to reissue stolen benefits. However, states could choose to reimburse participants using their own funds — but most do not, including Maryland.

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Federal agencies must also coordinate with the U.S. Attorney General, state agencies, retail food stores and third-party contractors who process the federal funds to determine how money is being stolen and how it is being used, according to the bill.

Last month, Maryland U.S. Rep. C. A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger proposed a similar bill to Congress that would enable states to reissue stolen food assistance with federal funds. The Baltimore County Democrat’s bill swiftly gained bipartisan and bicameral support from both houses of Congress and landed in the spending package, which now heads to Democratic President Joe Biden for his signature.

“This is about helping people who are down on their luck,” Ruppersberger told The Banner in an email. “It’s about helping seniors and struggling families — who are now crime victims and have lost their benefits through no fault of their own.”

Ruppersberger said he introduced the bill after hearing from “an influx of constituents” who lost SNAP benefits through fraud. The bill was inspired, in part, by reporting from The Banner.

“There is not one community in this country who is not affected by this deplorable crime right now, which robs struggling families, seniors and disabled Americans of their monthly food budgets,” Ruppersberger said in a statement.

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The reimbursement requirement comes amid a nationwide rise in benefits theft, which has affected thousands of Marylanders. In Maryland, over $1 million of SNAP and cash assistance has been stolen as of October 2022. Neither the spending bill nor Ruppersberger’s bill applies to cash assistance.

The “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023″ funds the federal government through the end of September, and includes $154 billion for SNAP. Passing the bill Friday avoided a government shutdown set to begin on Christmas Eve.

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