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SNAP Quality Control

SNAP Quality Control

Payment Errors

As part of the quality control system FNS and states work together to identify and correct errors in eligibility and benefit calculations. Payment errors are largely due to unintentional mistakes by either the state agency or the SNAP household. For example, the state agency may incorrectly calculate a household’s expenses, or a client may forget or not know to provide the state with an update on their income.

There are two types of payment errors:

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Underpayments

When a household receives less benefits than they are entitled to.

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Overpayments

When a household receives more benefits than they are entitled to.

 

SNAP Payment Error Rate Process

roadmap of the snap qc process

Each state agency starts by reviewing a select number of household case files each month. USDA conducts a second review of a sample of the state cases. Collectively, about 50,000 cases are reviewed by states and 25,000 of those are reviewed by FNS each year.

The review process includes a detailed interview with the household and verification of all circumstances relevant to their SNAP eligibility and benefit amount. When a state agency identifies an error, they must make a correction. Underpayments must be paid to the participant, and overpayments must be paid back by the participant so that each household gets exactly what they are eligible for.

Every June, FNS analyzes the final data collected from the states and uses that to determine national and state payment error rates. States that have high payment error rates for two consecutive years are charged a penalty.

 

Addressing Payment Errors

FNS works closely with state agencies to minimize payments errors and improve program accuracy. Through quality control, FNS helps state agencies identify the root causes of their payment errors and assists them in developing a corrective action plan to improve the accuracy of their eligibility and benefit determinations. Examples of actions a state might take include providing training to caseworkers, improving data systems, or implementing new policies and procedures.

Payment errors can have significant implications for both participants and the program. FNS takes quality control very seriously and is continuously working to enhance program integrity and reduce payment errors through ongoing monitoring, training, and technical assistance to state agencies. FNS also works to make improvements to the quality control system by developing new policies and improved tools designed to prevent payment errors.

The SNAP Payment Error Rate Is Not a Fraud Rate

The SNAP Payment Error Rate is a measure of how accurately states determine eligibility and benefit amounts.

 

Assessing Liabilities

USDA is required to establish a liability amount when a state’s SNAP payment error rate exceeds the national payment error rate and meets additional statutory criteria. These liability amounts can be paid immediately to USDA or settled by investing 50% of the penalty amount in activities that are focused on improving the state’s administration of SNAP. The remaining 50% is held “at-risk” for future payment. If, in a third consecutive year, the State is assessed a liability amount again for poor performance, they are required to pay the remaining 50% at-risk amount from the previous year to USDA. It's important to note that by law, state agencies are responsible for monitoring and improving SNAP administration. While the federal government oversees the program, the specifics of ensuring accurate benefits are provided to eligible households fall under state control, providing states with autonomy in addressing and rectifying errors.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is SNAP's quality control system?

The SNAP quality control system measures how accurately SNAP state agencies determine a household’s eligibility and benefit amount. It consists of both state agency reviews and federal reviews. The key objectives of the quality control system are:

  • To measure the accuracy of states’ SNAP eligibility and benefit determinations.
  • To provide program data timely and regularly for continuous program improvement through corrective actions that help ensure benefit and eligibility accuracy.
What is the purpose of the quality control process?

By law, each state agency is responsible for monitoring and improving its administration of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. As a part of this, the SNAP quality control process is used to measure how accurately a state agency determines SNAP households’ eligibility and benefit amounts. This is to help ensure eligible SNAP recipients get the correct amount of benefits. The data collected is also used to identify areas for program improvement.

What does a state’s payment error rate measure?

The SNAP payment error rates measure how accurately state agencies determine household eligibility and benefit amounts. This includes both overpayments — when households receive more benefits than they are entitled to — and underpayments — when households receive less benefits than they are entitled to.

How are SNAP payment error rates calculated?

USDA determines national and state error rates. First, state agency’s review a sample of their eligibility and benefit amount determinations for accuracy. Then USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service reviews a subsample of those cases to validate.

  • USDA calculates state payment error rates using a statistical analysis called a regression. The regression analysis is performed using both the federal and state case review data.
  • USDA determines the national payment error rate by calculating the weighted average of all individual state payment error rates. Weighting is determined by a state’s proportion of total SNAP benefit issuances that fiscal year.
Are the error rates the same thing as fraud?

No, SNAP error rates are not fraud rates; payment accuracy errors in SNAP are largely unintentional and can happen in one of two ways:

  • An applicant is determined eligible when they are not.
  • An eligible participant is certified to receive either more or less benefits than they are entitled to.
What happens if state agencies have high payment error rates?

USDA Food and Nutrition Service requires state agencies to develop and execute a corrective action plan if they have a payment error rate of 6% or more or if they do not review at least 98% of their required sample size of eligibility and benefit determinations. Corrective action must help lower the error rate and address any root causes of the errors.

Are SNAP recipients responsible for paying back benefits they incorrectly received? Do they get repaid for benefits less than what they were entitled to?

By law, states are required to correct payment errors — overpayments must be paid back to the state and the state must reimburse participants for underpayments — so that each household gets the correct amount based on their eligibility.

How rigorous is the process that produces the SNAP payment error rate?

The SNAP quality control process is a rigorous, two-tier system, that involves both state and federal reviews to assess the accuracy of household eligibility and benefit determinations nationwide. Every year, states review a total of 50,000 SNAP cases nationwide, and FNS conducts a re-review of about half of those cases to ensure accurate reporting by states. Quality control reviewers follow established processes for assessing the accuracy of eligibility and benefit decisions, which include states verifying data on household circumstances through a variety of sources and directly interviewing households to confirm case information.

What updates is USDA proposing to the quality control system?

FNS is proposing changes to improve the quality and timeliness of the SNAP payment accuracy data that states provide to FNS through the quality control process. These include but are not limited to:

  • Shifting QC reviews to focus only on cases with recent eligibility actions (e.g., certification or recertification), which would result in more timely and proactive interventions when issues are identified.
  • Mandating the use of the federal QC technology platform, eliminating redundant state systems.
  • Allowing for telephone interviews as the primary interview method to give more flexibility to busy households and hopefully increase QC case completions.
  • Providing an optional process for gaining cooperation from unresponsive households.
How will these proposed changes improve SNAP?

The proposed changes are intended to benefit both SNAP state agencies and our program participants. They are designed to increase state agency efficiency, reduce the amount of time that state staff members spend verifying household circumstances, and improve the quality and timeliness of the SNAP payment accuracy data. The proposed rule also prioritizes the participant experience by simplifying the QC process for households and reducing the time between certification actions and QC reviews.

Will the proposed changes reduce fraud?

No. SNAP’s QC system identifies how accurately SNAP state agencies issue benefits to participants. Payment errors often occur, for example, when a SNAP household unknowingly provides incorrect information to the state agency, or when a state agency staff member makes an administrative mistake. FNS is committed to working with state agencies to understand and address the root causes of their payment errors. For more information visit SNAP fraud prevention.

How can I share my input on the proposed rule?

USDA welcomes comments on the proposed rule during the public comment period from Sept. 19, 2023 through Nov. 20, 2023. Individuals and organizations interested in reading the full text of the proposed rule and submitting public comments can visit the Federal Register Notice. Please follow the prompts to submit a public comment. For more information about submitting a public comment, please see the Regulations.gov frequently asked questions.

What happens after the public comment period ends?

Once the public comment period ends, FNS will review each comment and post all received comments to Regulations.gov.

SNAP Quality Control

Page updated: July 11, 2024