While state Auditor Dave Yost wants to see some changes made to the food stamp program at the federal level, he is also working on getting photo IDs on the state’s electronic benefits cards as a way to deter fraud.

Yost was in town recently and met with some of The Daily Record staff, and publisher Bill Albrecht asked about what some of the top issues are.

The No. 1 issue is the opioid epidemic, Yost said. “Everyone’s talking about it, but no one knows what to do,” he said.

The state has experienced weak revenue for the past eight months, and Yost said he is not sure if it is the result of a soft economy or tax policy.

Yost also addressed reforms to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known for many years as the food stamp program. There continue to be hearings in Washington, D.C., and Yost said he is hopeful there will be some reforms when the farm bill is reauthorized.

As for Ohio, Yost is pushing for the photo IDs, and he said he thinks state legislators will pass the measure.

“The idea behind it is that is to help provide a deterrent to trafficking in EBT cards,” Yost said. When law enforcement busts a drug house, they find four things: Drugs, cash, weapons and EBT cards.

Capt. Doug Hunter of the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office and Director Donald Hall of the Medway Drug Enforcement Agency both said they do encounter EBT cards, but it is not prevalent.

“Drugs, guns and cash are more common,” Hunter said. When deputies do find the EBT cards, they investigate to determine if there has been any fraudulent activity with them. Deputies recently charged someone for unlawfully having a benefits card. It was not detected during the execution of a search warrant at a house, but it came up during a routine traffic stop where drugs were recovered, Hunter added.

“Rarely is there a logical reason for someone to be in possession of another individual’s card” who is not a family member, Hunter said. Deputies will determine whether there is some legitimate reason for this to take place, and, if not, then the case will lead to criminal charges.

Hall said EBT cards turn up during traffic interdiction stops, warrant arrests and drug arrests. Fraudulently using them is a fifth-degree felony, which can result in a jail or prison term of between six months to a year.

“EBT cards are provided to allow those most in need to receive assistance for day-to-day necessities,” Hunter said. Sadly, they are frequently used as payment for illegal substances.”

“We think a photo on the EBT card will provide some deterrent; it won’t be a cure-all,” Yost said. Someone might be more reluctant to illegally use a benefits card if the person is man and a woman’s photograph appears on card.

Rich Owens, director of the Wayne County Department of Job & Family Services, said the effort to ensure program integrity is laudable, but it might not have much impact because anyone in the household or assistance group can use the card.

“Whose picture or name do you use,” Owens asked. Also, a client might ask a neighbor or a friend to pick up some food if unable to get to a store.

“So, how would someone know legitimate use from fraudulent use,” Owens inquired. “It would be up to the store clerk to identify a concern and then call the JFS office to report it.”

Yost said he does not want anyone denied food. The cards would have a fraud alert number, so the clerk can process the transaction and call in a suspected case of fraud after the fact.

U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs, a Lakeville Republican, has been supportive of SNAP reforms, spokesman Dallas Gerber said. Gibbs invited Yost to testify at a Congressional hearing in July 2016 about discoveries made during an audit of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in Ohio.

Yost would like to see three changes made: 1) Give states more flexibility in administering the federally funded program; 2) give auditors better access to records of purchases; and 3) let states, not counties, proactively investigate fraud.

Gibbs and other House members have been preparing for the reauthorization of the farm bill, which will come up in 2018. They have been hearing from experts since 2016.

Reporter Bobby Warren can be reached at 330-287-1639 or bwarren@the-daily-record.com.