By Cathy Buhrig, Associate Administrator, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provides nutrition support to millions of American families in need. USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) works with partner states to ensure that SNAP provides the right amount of benefits to eligible families in the prescribed timeframes.
SNAP quality control is one of the key ways FNS ensures the integrity of the program. Each month, SNAP state agencies are required to randomly select a certain number of SNAP cases and thoroughly re-check their eligibility and benefit levels. If the state identifies an improper payment, which could be a household receiving more benefits than they were entitled to receive (overpayment) or less benefits than they were entitled to (underpayment). The state then works to make a correction to address the under or overpayment. FNS then reviews a sample of the state reviewed cases to validate the findings of the state.
It’s important to note that these improper payments are usually due to unintentional mistakes. For example, a state agency staff member might incorrectly calculate a household’s expenses, or a recipient may not know that they need to report a small change in their hourly wage.
Each year, as required by law, FNS then analyzes the final data collected from the states and uses that information to determine the payment error rate for that state. This final number issued by FNS informs states of how often and why their eligibility and benefit calculations are incorrect. States who have high payment error rates must work with FNS to reduce the number of cases that have mistakes. Those that experience high rates for two years in a row are charged a penalty.
FNS works with states to identify the root causes of their payment errors and develop a plan to improve the accuracy of benefit payments. This may include providing training to caseworkers, improving data systems, or implementing new policies and procedures.
The goal of identifying errors is to improve the program and to prevent the loss of taxpayer dollars by ensuring that SNAP benefits — in the correct amounts — are going to those who are eligible. By working collaboratively with states, we can ensure that SNAP continues to be a vital lifeline for millions of Americans.