NEW YORK (PIX11) — A grocery receipt shocked a single mom in Brooklyn.
The receipt showed Haiyan Chen, 42, had just $2 in her Electronic Benefit Transfer account when, days earlier, she’d had $3,900 saved up, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program app showed someone spent her money in Los Angeles.
The mom of four, who is the sole source of financial support for her kids, reported the theft to the Human Resources Administration but received no monetary compensation. To feed her family, Chen lined up for donations and walked to a store 30 minutes away to buy heavily discounted food. The mom still has anxiety over what happened.
She’s one of the thousands of EBT card skimming victims in New York. More than $730,000 in benefits were stolen from EBT cardholders in New York last year, according to the Legal Aid Society.
The Legal Aid Society, together with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer US LLP, launched a class action lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) on behalf of skimming victims.
“Our clients and all low-income New Yorkers who rely on SNAP benefits to feed themselves and their families are suffering tremendously and must be immediately reimbursed for their stolen benefits, which they lost through no fault of their own,” Alex MacDougall, staff attorney in the Civil Law Reform Unit at The Legal Aid Society, said.
Per the complaint filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, USDA FNA won’t authorize New York State to use federal money to reimburse victims of skimming.
“It is unacceptable that the USDA is essentially passing the buck and not taking responsibility for reimbursing victims of skimming, despite legal mandates that protect other forms of electronic theft and the agency’s responsibility to ensure that benefits systems are protected,” MacDougall said.
SNAP is a “crucial lifeline” for more than 2.8 million people in New York, the commissioner for the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, which oversees support programs for New Yorkers, said.
“But when recipients have their benefits stolen, deserving New Yorkers are unable to get their stolen benefits replaced, seriously hampering the household budgets of families and individuals in need,” the commissioner previously told PIX11.
Another New Yorker who had her benefits stolen, 49-year-old Kenya Watson, brought a police report to the HRA, but she was told to go to a food pantry and find a school to provide meals for her grandchild, according to the lawsuit. With Watson’s income consumed by rent and utilities, the family was forced to eat just one meal a day to get by.
The final section of the complaint filed Wednesday is a “prayer for relief.” In it, the plaintiffs ask the court to issue an injunction commanding the USDA and USDA FNS to authorize the replacement of stolen benefits.
PIX11 reached out to the USDA and USDA FNS for comment.