Research & Commentary: Bad Data Plagues SNAP Quality Control Program

Published December 5, 2016

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as the Food Stamp system, has become one of the fastest-growing welfare programs. SNAP is the fourth-largest means-tested program for low-income families and individuals. It is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the benefits are distributed by individual states.

Nationally, SNAP expenditures have doubled in the recent years, from $33 billion in 2006 to $74.1 billion as of 2014. The number of people receiving SNAP benefits increased from 26 million to 46.5 million in 2015. When the food stamp program was first implemented nationally in the 1970s, just one in 50 Americans participated. Today, according to the Congressional Budget Office, one in seven Americans receives SNAP benefits, at a total cost of more than $6 billion per month, an average of $125.35 for each person per month in food assistance.

Over the past three years, SNAP rolls have begun to slowly decline, but recent reports now suggest many states have relied on inaccurate data to monitor their payments and eligibility standards for SNAP. States are required by law to provide data to the SNAP Quality Control program indicating their error-rate statistics related to overpayments made to ineligible recipients and underpayments to those who should have received benefits.

According to the Argus Leader, more than 40 states in the federal food stamp program submitted bad data. In a 2015 audit conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General, investigators found numerous problems with SNAP quality control data collected in eight states. The report found the data improved in seven of the eight states audited after they hired outside consultants; the average error rates for seven of the eight states dropped an average of 55 percent. The audit also highlighted the quality control system’s vulnerability to abuse. These discrepancies are important because a state can receive millions of dollars in federal performance bonuses by reporting lower payment errors, and bad data could lead states to receive tax dollars they did not earn.

Eligibility remains one of the key issues with SNAP. The current income and asset test for SNAP requires recipients to have a gross income below 130 percent of the poverty level and a net income below 100 percent of poverty, without having more than $2,000 in assets. These requirements are much closer to defining people in real need, but many SNAP recipients are accepted under looser standards through “categorical eligibility.” In the states using categorical eligibility for the SNAP program, recipients are determined not by the income and asset limitations established for SNAP itself, but by participation in other cash welfare assistance programs, which can have lesser eligibility standards.

Welfare reforms ought to focus on encouraging able-bodied recipients who are enrolled in these programs to become more self-sufficient and less dependent on government by providing temporary or supplemental assistance while encouraging work and independence.

States should have an immediate requirement for recipients to engage in work-related activities to be eligible for TANF and food stamps. States should also reform assistance programs that trap low-income Americans in poverty by disincentivizing work.

The following articles provide additional information on SNAP.

Maine Entitlement Reforms, Audits Cut ‘SNAP’ Fraud Rates
Kimberly Morin, writing for Budget & Tax News, reports entitlement reforms in Maine have led to a decline in the prevalence of one type of program fraud in the state.

Welfare Reform Report Card: A State-by-State Analysis of Anti-Poverty Performance and Welfare Reform Policies
In 2015, The Heartland Institute published an updated version of its Welfare Reform Report Card. This report card compiles extensive data on five “inputs” and five “outputs” of state welfare and anti-poverty programs and assigns a final grade to each state for its welfare policies.

Welfare Reform after Ten Years: A State-by-State Analysis
In 2008, The Heartland Institute published Welfare Reform after Ten Years: A State-by-State Analysis, which reports the welfare policy choices of all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and then ranks the states by how aggressively they have implemented effective policies. The study provides policymakers with a roadmap to successful anti-poverty efforts.

Food Stamp Dependence in the States
This interactive map from Foundation for Government Accountability shows what percentage of each state’s population is dependent on food stamps and how much it costs the state.

Research & Commentary: Work Requirements Are a Necessary Component of Any SNAP Reform Plan–commentary-work-requirements-are-a-necessary-component-of-any-snap-reform-plan?source=policybot
In this Heartland Institute Research & Commentary, Matthew Glans examines the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and recent proposals to reform food stamp programs by restoring work requirements.

Welfare Rules Database 
The Urban Institute’s Welfare Rules Database provides a “comprehensive, sophisticated resource for comparing cash assistance programs between states” and for researching changes in cash assistance rules between states.

The Work Versus Welfare Tradeoff: 2013
The Cato Institute estimates the value of the full package of welfare benefits available to a typical recipient in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The study found welfare benefits outpace the income most recipients can expect to earn from an entry-level job, and the income gap between welfare and work may actually have grown worse in recent years.

More States Enforce Food Stamp Work Requirements
With the U.S. economy emerging from the recession, food stamp work requirements suspended during the downturn will be reinstated in many states, says Jake Grovum notes in Stateline.

Research & Commentary: SNAP Update and the Return of Work Requirements–commentary-snap-update-and-the-return-of-work-requirements?source=policybot
In this Heartland Institute Research & Commentary, Matthew Glans examines the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and recent proposals to reform food stamp programs by restoring work requirements.

SNAP Rolls Continue to Increase as Program Ensnares Families in Dependency
In this Heartlander article, Jeff Reynolds discusses the increase in food stamp dependency and ways to reform the program.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the Budget & Tax News website, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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