WASHINGTON, June 28, 2018 – For the first time in three years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today released new data on improper payments in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This data reflects an improved reporting process that will better enable USDA and its state partners to make informed, data-driven decisions to improve program integrity. The national SNAP benefit payment error rate – a measure of both overpayments and underpayments made by all states nationwide – in fiscal year 2017 was 6.3 percent. This is an apparent increase over the 3.66 percent reported for fiscal year 2014, believed to be largely the result of the improved measurement procedures implemented by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to improve the accuracy of the data, rather than an actual increase in improper payments.
“USDA is committed to program integrity and transparency,” said Brandon Lipps, USDA’s Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services. “The performance rates released today reflect an improved reporting process designed to provide an accurate measure of errors that can be identified and corrected to ensure taxpayer dollars are invested wisely and decisions are made based on solid facts.”
In 2014, USDA identified inconsistencies in quality control data that raised concerns about the presence of statistical bias in the system across the country. A thorough examination of each state’s quality control system and subsequent significant process improvement efforts have resulted in the more accurate payment error rates presented today. Due to the data quality issues uncovered in FNS’s extensive reviews, the agency declined to report a national payment error rate for fiscal years 2015 or 2016 until the problems could be resolved, and the agency could ensure the data presented were accurate. USDA implemented new oversight controls to correct data quality issues and prevent them from reoccurring, which included providing training to state and federal staff, updating guidance and manuals, and working with states to update their procedures to ensure consistency with federal guidelines.
“The majority of improper payments are due to human errors,” Lipps said. Improper payments occur when the state certifies someone who is not eligible; denies someone who is eligible; or calculates the benefit amount incorrectly such that the individual receives too much or too little benefits. This can occur for a variety of reasons including a data entry error, or improper information provided by the recipient. Approximately 60 percent of errors are a result of actions by state agencies, while 40 percent are caused by program participants.
The rates – which are assessed at the state level and analyzed to determine a national rate –measure state agencies’ accuracy in issuing SNAP benefit payments to program participants. They reflect the sum total of underpayments and overpayments by states and do not necessarily represent fraud by program recipients.
“Nutrition assistance programs work best when federal and state partners work together,” Lipps said. “Everyone involved in nutrition assistance programs – at the federal, state and local level – are rightly accountable for good stewardship of tax dollars, ensuring that those most in need are well-served.”
Under federal law, each state agency is responsible for monitoring its administration of SNAP, including payment accuracy. As part of the quality control process, states collectively review about 50,000 cases each year. FNS, which administers the program at the federal level, then double checks a sampling of those cases to ensure payment accuracy and compliance with program eligibility requirements. For more information on SNAP Quality Control , see also the SNAP Payment Error Rates fact sheet.
Any amount of error can have a significant impact on the program. Lipps said, “USDA remains committed to ensuring taxpayer dollars are used wisely and will continue to work with its state partners and Congress to identify ways to enhance integrity in all of its critical nutrition assistance programs. Where protection of taxpayer dollars is concerned, the job is never done.”
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service administers 15 nutrition assistance programs. In addition to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, these programs include Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, the National School Lunch Program, and the Summer Food Service Program which together comprise America’s nutrition safety net. For more information, visit www.fns.usda.gov.
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