DES MOINES — The Iowa Senate has unanimously voted to establish new penalties for people caught with more than one “electronic benefit transfer” card for food stamps. Senator Bill Dotzler, a Democrat from Waterloo, said this is a crackdown on a particular type of welfare fraud.

“When individuals have been caught with multiple cards in their possession, we couldn’t charge them with anything because they weren’t violating anything just having the cards,” Dotzler said. “…This isn’t a witch hunt. This is actually something that exists and we can work in a cooperative way to help alleviate this problem.”

Senator Jason Schultz, a Republican from Schleswig, said constituents complain to him about the misuse of food stamps. He had hoped to require a photo on all swipe cards issued to Iowans, so retailers could confirm the person using the card for food stamp benefits was entitled to do so.

“I believed that was going to handle fraud and misuse in a much more effective and broad spectrum manner, ” Schultz said during today’s debate. “Unfortunately, federal rules wouldn’t allow it.”

USDA rules for the “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program” do not let states put a photo on the electronic benefit cards and retailers are not allowed to refuse food stamps if the person making the purchase is not the person listed on the card. Advocates say that’s because children and the spouse in a household aren’t listed on the cards. Schultz said, to him, it appears the federal government doesn’t care who uses the cards.

“But Iowa does,” Schultz said. “…We’re doing what we can to try to minimize fraud and make sure that the benefits go to the people who actually qualify and who need those benefits.”

The bill establishing penalties for possession of multiple food stamp cards now goes to the House for consideration.