- Associated Press - Sunday, September 21, 2014

ATLANTA (AP) - State officials expect adding photos to food stamp cards will cost Georgia more than $7.7 million next year.

Members of the Department of Human Services Board approved that budget request last month. Lawmakers included the photo requirement as part of a larger bill aimed at preventing fraud in food assistance programs this spring.

State Sen. Don Balfour, a Snellville Republican, sponsored the law and said the cost is reasonable to prevent people from selling the food benefits for cash. He said the budget estimate amounts to around $10 each per card, since an estimated 900,000 people receive food stamps in Georgia.

The budget request also covers the cost of new technology, educating recipients and food retailers about the changes and a future study, according to DHS spokeswoman Ravae Graham.

“I guarantee you we’ll see more than that in savings,” Balfour said. “The people looking to use these to get money are using the cash for something other than food. That’s not the purpose.”

Agencies submit budget requests to the governor’s office, which uses them to develop a statewide budget proposal for review by the Legislature.

Critics of the food stamp legislation have said it will not fix larger-scale fraud. The USDA has reported the rate of illegal sales of food assistance benefits for cash or other items is around 1.3 percent of all users and largely occurs in small- or medium-sized retailers.

Melissa Johnson, an analyst with the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, said the state should focus on large-scale traffickers, like the 54 people named in a recent federal indictment. Prosecutors have said the defendants claimed to open grocery stores throughout the state and got approved as food stamp vendors then got reimbursed for benefits purchased from residents in one of the largest food program frauds ever prosecuted.

“Putting photos on ID’s is not going to mitigate the large scale fraud you see,” Johnson said. “We could be spending this money on so many more productive things.”

Another portion of Georgia’s new food stamp law has been put on hold. Under the law signed by Gov. Nathan Deal in April, food stamp recipients suspected of using drugs could have been required to take a drug test. State and federal officials have ruled that would violate federal law.

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