HARRISBURG – Continuing efforts to prevent fraud and abuse of state programs, the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Ronald Marsico (R-Dauphin), today approved legislation to impose tougher penalties for the illegal trafficking of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
“It’s important to stop people from defrauding this program, both for the sake of taxpayers who foot the bill for it and for the individuals and families who rely on it to put food on their tables each day,” Marsico said.
The bill stems from a case uncovered last year by the Office of State Inspector General in which a Harrisburg restaurant traded drugs for electronic benefit transaction (EBT) cards and bought thousands of dollars of supplies from a food wholesale club to be resold for profit.
In a letter to Marsico urging support of the bill, Inspector General Bruce Beemer noted, “Unscrupulous merchants pay recipients pennies on the dollar in cash for the EBT cards issued to SNAP recipients. The traffickers then use these cards to buy supplies for their own businesses or resell them. This is a serious problem across Pennsylvania which takes food from our most vulnerable citizens.”
Under current law, the recipient who sells the benefits and the merchant who creates the illegal market for and trafficks in those benefits are treated the same. Senate Bill 1127 would combat the problem by creating a new penalty for the fraudulent trafficking of SNAP benefits in an amount greater than $2,500. Violators would be required to pay restitution of up to three times the amount of fraud they committed.
The bill goes to the full House for consideration.
Other measures approved by the committee on Tuesday include:
• House Bill 928
, which would reduce penalties that apply to a conviction for possession of small amounts of marijuana. A first or second offense would be classified as a summary offense and carry a mandatory fine of $300. A third or subsequent offense would be classified as a third-degree misdemeanor and carry a mandatory $1,000 fine. No jail time would be authorized.
• Senate Bill 500, which would permit the court to direct the police, sheriff or other individual approved by the court to accompany the plaintiff to his/her residence when serving the defendant petitions or court orders.
• Senate Bill 502, which would pause a Protection From Abuse (PFA) order while a defendant is incarcerated and continue the order for 90 days after the defendant is released.
• Senate Bill 897, which would change who qualifies as a “victim” for purposes of receiving restitution by including in the definition victims other than natural persons, such as governmental, business and nonprofit entities.
• Senate Bill 915, which would make changes relating to post-conviction relief. The bill would expand eligibility for a Post-Conviction Relief Act hearing to a person who is not serving a sentence or under probation or parole, if the person is seeking relief based on new evidence procured by post-conviction DNA testing. It also would extend the period within which a petition for post-conviction relief based on newly discovered evidence must be filed, from the current 60 days from the date the claim could have been presented to one year.
• Senate Bill 916, which would modify the process for a defendant to file a petition for DNA testing. Most significantly, it would eliminate the requirement that the person who requests testing be serving a term of imprisonment or awaiting execution after being sentenced to death; expand the current requirement that the defendant show that DNA technology was not available to test evidence discovered prior to trial; and permit testing to be done at any time if the motion is timely and made for the purpose of demonstrating actual innocence and not to delay execution of the sentence or the administration of justice.
• Senate Bill 961, which would make a number of changes regarding the state’s driving under the influence (DUI) law. It would adopt a provision that a student driver may not be manifestly under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance; increase the penalty for driving while under suspension for a prior DUI; amend the requirements for a finding of homicide or aggravated assault by vehicle; increase the grading for homicide by vehicle while DUI where there has been any of several prior convictions against the defendant; create a sentencing enhancement for aggravated assault by vehicle while DUI if the driver is also unlicensed or has a suspended license; expand the crime of accidents involving death or personal injury while not properly licensed; increase the grading for multiple DUI offenses, including a new grading of a third-degree felony for certain multiple DUIs or a DUI after a prior conviction for homicide by vehicle while DUI; make changes to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court decision that a blood test to detect alcohol must be done pursuant to consent, a valid search warrant or exigent circumstances in the particular case.
• Senate Bill 1092, which would direct the Commission on Sentencing to provide a sentence enhancement for a simple assault or aggravated assault committed against a family or household member when the defendant knew the crime was witnessed by a minor who is also a family or household member of the defendant or the victim.
• Senate Bill 1209, which would amend the Sexual Assault Testing and Evidence Collection Act to require a health care facility (HCF) to contact local law enforcement authorities within 12 hours of collection of sexual assault evidence. If the local law enforcement agency does not take possession of the evidence within 72 hours, the HCF would be required to notify the Department of Health (DOH).
Representative Ronald Marsico
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Patricia Hippler