Agriculture Department unveils new steps to stop food stamp fraud

The Agriculture Department says it is going to impose tougher penalties on stores that violate food stamp rules. The federal government will also give states new tools to root out applicants who are ineligible for the benefit program that now covers about 1 out of every 7 Americans.

The move comes as Congress struggles to pass a five-year farm and nutrition bill that provides almost $80 billion a year for the food stamp program.

The new sanctions would allow the department to both disqualify a retailer who traffics in food stamp benefits and assess a fine proportional to the amount of business the store does with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

States would also have to check databases to determine that an applicant is not in jail or deceased.