Abuse and fraud in Washington state’s Basic Food program is a serious crime.
This week, one of our staff members entered a local grocery store in the International District. At the threshold of the doorway was a young Latino man in his early 20s. As he walked by, he quickly asked the Northwest Asian Weekly staff member if she wanted to buy food stamps. Surprised and caught off guard, she said no.
Soon after, she remembered the story that the paper ran on food stamp fraud back in October, and she made the connection. She went back and tried to seek out the man, but he was already gone.
Later, she described the man as looking nothing like the stereotypical “runner,” a person who participates in and facilitates food stamp fraud. He was young, wore a baseball cap, and had on a backpack. He also didn’t look like he was at all affiliated with the Asian grocery store she was shopping in.
This kind of fraud undermines the integrity of programs designed to help families during difficult economic times, and it diverts limited benefits from those who really need our help, such as children.
Earlier this year, in February, we ran a story about the food stamp fraud allegations surrounding Viet Wah Supermarket. In the story, Viet Wah chairman Duc Tran pointed out that his employees did not participate in food stamp fraud. He stated that his business just happens to be targeted by runners.
Though he has called the police and other authorities, little had been done in preventing food stamp fraud at his store.
Tran’s story is common among grocery store owners. However, because the most recent prominent bust in the International District implicated a grocery store owner, Elsa Ma Kwong, who may have cheated the government out of millions of dollars, people choose not to believe other grocery owners when they say they are not involved in the fraud.
We want to tell our readers to give these owners the benefit of the doubt. The story is more complicated than we think.
It’s important to continue patronizing family grocery stores in the area to support our local businesses.
It’s equally as important to be on our toes and, if we are approached by someone wanting to sell us food stamps, we say no — don’t participate in the crime — and report it to the proper authorities by calling the Washington State Welfare Fraud Hotline at 1-800-562-6906 or visit www.dhs.wa.gov/fraud for more information. ♦