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NY food stamps purchases routinely sent to relatives overseas

Caribbean barrels
Photo credit: J.C. Rice/NY Post

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With the federal government handing out financial assistance for
groceries to a record number of Americans more oversight should be a no-brainer when it comes to Electronic Benefit Transfer cards and those using them. Especially now that media reports suggest those ATM-like cards are paying for an unusual amount of food to be shipped out of the country.

Residents of a predominantly Caribbean area in New York City are using taxpayer-funded benefits to purchase food later shipped to relatives in Jamaica, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, according to a New York Post report.

The shipments have prompted numerous stores in almost every Caribbean corner of the city to begin selling 45- to 55-gallon barrels to transport the food, according to the Post.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service spokeswoman told the Post that welfare benefits are to be used only for local families, adding that states should intervene when welfare recipients decide to ship food abroad.

“I don’t want food-stamp police to see what people do with their rice and beans, but it’s wrong,” Michael Tanner, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, told the Post. “The purpose of this program is to help Americans who don’t have enough to eat. This is not intended as a form of foreign aid.”

It’s not like the Caribbean doesn’t receive U.S. assistance. More $522 million in foreign aid was sent to the islands last fiscal year, government data show.

“Everybody does it,” a worker at a supermarket in Brookly, told the Post. “They pay for it any way they can. A lot of people pay with EBT.”

Workers at the Pioneer Supermarket on Parkside Avenue and the Key Food on Flatbush Avenue told the newspaper their customers do the same thing:

Customers pay cash for the barrels, usually about $40, and typically ship them filled with $500 to $2,000 worth of rice, beans, pasta, canned milk and sausages.

They said food-stamp recipients typically take home their barrels and fill them gradually over time with food bought with EBT cards.

When the tubs are full, the welfare users call a shipping company to pick them up and send them to the Caribbean for about $70. The shipments take about three weeks.

“This is all worth more than $2,000,” a woman who was packing a barrel said. “I’ve been shopping since last December. You can help somebody else, someone who doesn’t live in this country.”

She stuffed dozens of boxes of macaroni and evaporated milk into a barrel headed for her family in Kingston, Jamaica, saying she bought the food herself, not with welfare benefits.

“We’re poor here, and they’re poor. But what we can get here is like luxury to them,” a man helping her pack the barrel said.

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