In September 2011, a sad-eyed 3-year-old named Aliayah Lunsford disappeared from a home in Lewis County. Despite the best efforts of law enforcement, no trace of her has ever been found.In October 2011, the state Department of Health and Human Resources filed an abuse and neglect petition, alleging Lena and Ralph Lunsford's other six children were in imminent danger.The investigation into Aliayah's disappearance also led within weeks to Lena Lunsford's indictment on charges that she illegally swapped welfare benefits for cash five times within two months.The little girl's mother pleaded guilty to selling $114 worth of credit on her food-stamp card for $50 cash.
Lena Lunsford gave birth to twins after Aliayah disappeared, and then went to prison in June 2012.The state Supreme Court last week upheld the Lewis Circuit Court's ruling terminating her parental rights. She's scheduled to be released Feb. 16, but she will not get her other six children back.
The whole story is an outrage. Here's hoping Aliayah Lunsford receives justice in the end.But state officials also ought to commission an unsparing report on how much such fraud occurs in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.Here was Lena Lunsford, mother of seven, selling taxpayer-provided food assistance six times in two months - once for less than 50 cents on the dollar.The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel found that in 2010, nearly 2,000 food stamp recipients reported "losing" their electronic benefit cards six or more times. Sixty food stamp recipients had received replacement cards 12 or more times in one year.More than 46.2 million Americans are getting SNAP benefits. That includes 350,217 in West Virginia.All Americans would help hungry children. But public support for food stamps is severely damaged when taxpayers find out they give benefits to people who sell them to get cash.West Virginia needs to study its own caseload and report its finding to the public. Governments need to be able to prove they work hard to prevent fraud.