BULLETIN: USDA Conducting ‘Review’ Of Food Stamp Claims Made By MPB Today Affiliates; ‘We Take This Matter Very Seriously,’ Agency Says
BULLETIN: UPDATED 9:21 P.M. EDT (U.S.A.) The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has opened a “review” of claims made by affiliates of a Florida-based, multilevel-marketing company, the agency said late this afternoon.
Members of MPB Today, an MLM program owned by a Pensacola-based grocery seller known as Southeastern Delivery, have targeted recipients of Food Stamps in promotions for the MLM program.
The agency did not say precisely what claims it would check in its review. MPB Today claims in a video sales pitch that a “one-time” purchase of $200 in groceries from Southeastern can “totally eliminate” future grocery bills.
“We take this matter very seriously,” a USDA spokeswoman told the PP Blog. “We are reviewing the situation.”
In general, the spokeswoman said, the agency wants “to make a determination if any regulations are being violated.”
MPB Today operates a 2×2 cycler matrix that is coupled with the home delivery of groceries. As the PP Blog first reported yesterday, some MPB Today affiliates are advising Food Stamp recipients that the high shipping costs of home-delivered groceries from Southeastern Delivery provide a compelling reason for them to join the MLM program and recruit other members.
Other MPB Today members have produced check-waving videos, placing them on YouTube to drive business to the firm. One of the YouTube videos claims the MLM program is “Govt. acknowledged.” The video further claims that Walmart is “affiliated” with MPB Today.
Walmart has not responded to a request for comment from the PP Blog.
Southeastern’s shipping costs for home-delivered groceries may total 50 percent of an order, according to the MPB Today website.
A Food Stamp recipient with a $200 order with Southeastern would be spending up to $300 to gain the same $200 of purchasing power offered by a local, walk-in grocery retailer.
Because of the high shipping costs, the Food Stamp customer should join the MPB Today program to qualify for free shipping and MLM payments for getting others to join, an affiliate suggested in a promotional Blog post titled “Shop Online With Food Stamps.”
Southeastern is authorized to accept Food Stamps, according to a USDA database. One MPB Today affiliate, however, claimed that Southeastern had “the sole right in their area to accept EBT (equivalent to food stamps/card across the US.).â€
If the claim is true, it would mean that the government was favoring one local Food Stamp-participating retailer over another or creating a condition in which financially strapped consumers from Maine to California would be tempted to send their Food Stamp money to a Florida grocer that suggested a one-time payment could result in MLM riches that would end all food worries.
EBT is the government’s acronym for “Electronic Benefits Transfer” under the Food Stamp program, which is known as SNAP. SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and is administered by USDA.
The affiliate’s claim that Southeastern had the “sole right” in its market area for EBT Food Stamp transactions is dubious. A USDA database shows that at least 25 stores within 2.39 miles of Southeastern’s immediate market area in Pensacola are authorized to accept Food Stamp transactions, including a Walmart that is less than a mile from Southeastern’s business address.
There also are two Winn Dixie supermarkets within 1.2 miles of the address, according to the federal database.
The claim has led to questions about whether MPB Today affiliates were trying to steer nationwide business to Southeastern at the exclusion of authorized Food Stamp retailers that do not charge shipping fees, do not seek to solicit customers for an MLM program and may be more competitive on shelf prices.