OIG outlines more SNAP challenges

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, August 26, 2013 - USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has made progress in cracking down on waste, fraud and abuse in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), but a new Office of Inspector General (OIG) report indicates that it is one of several USDA programs that require better management and accountability.

Due to the economic downturn, program participation in SNAP has grown 80 percent since 2007. The program, formerly known as food stamps, disbursed over $74.5 billion in benefits in FY 2012 - making it the largest portion of USDA funding. The agency delivers approximately $144 billion in public services annually through more than
 300 programs.

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As part of a new report on “USDA Management Challenges,” OIG recently analyzed SNAP-related databases at Federal and State levels to identify potentially ineligible recipients. The OIG found that 27,044 recipients in 10 States were receiving approximately $3.7 million a month in SNAP benefits, even though they were potentially ineligible.

But solving the problem won't be easily, especially as some states are cutting back staff and have inadequate tools to uncover problems.

“We attributed many of these issues to the fact that States do not make full use of tools and databases available to them for ensuring applicant eligibility and detecting fraud-primarily because FNS has not required their use,” OIG noted in the report. “Additionally, while research is often conducted by the States' fraud detection and prevention units, FNS officials stated that States face significant resource challenges and are relying on staffing cuts, as well as furloughs, to meet current financial challenges.

“We also found that although FNS has a methodology for estimating a retailer trafficking rate, the method is based on a judgmental rather than statistical sample, and the results may not be representative of the retailer population. Therefore, the actual extent of trafficking could be over or underestimated. In addition, the agency has not established a process to identify or estimate the total amount of SNAP fraud occurring nationwide, either by recipients or by retailers.

The report noted that FNS is in the process of developing stronger penalties and sanctions for small retailers. FNS has also sent letters to State Commissioners and Governors in 2011 expressing the importance of addressing recipient integrity issues.

However, OIG provides plenty of ammunition for members of the House of Representatives who want to cut even deeper in the SNAP program when they return in September to vote on a stand-alone nutrition title. The House voted down a farm bill with over $20 billion in nutrition cuts earlier this summer and may try to bring up a bill with double that amount when lawmakers return in September.

But FNS isn't the only agency with room for improvement. The OIG report notes problems and management challenges within several different USDA agencies, including the Farm Service Agency and Rural Development.

To view the full report, click here:

http://www.usda.gov/oig/webdocs/MgmtChallenges2013.pdf

 

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