Severe Quality Issues With States Management of Food Stamps Uncovered

Data Uncover Significant Issues in SNAP Management Across Key States

On Thursday the 8th, 2024, Agriculture President Tom Vilsack from USDA sent a letter to 47 states raising concerns about how the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is being managed across the states.

The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) agency within USDA that controls the SNAP program uses four primary indicators to measure the performance of each state under what’s called the “Quality Control System”. compiled and ran through all the recent numbers from USDA for these four indicators for each state, and stacked them up against each other for a comparative analysis.

This reveals some rather stark differences between various state’s management of the program and shows why concern from the upper echelon of USDA is well warranted.

Key Findings:

  1. Alaska paid out the wrong amount to eligible SNAP recipients 56.97% of the time.
  2. Only seven states have been able to hit the USDA benchmark of a payment error rate below 6%.
  3. District of Columbia only managed 42.86% of SNAP applications within the federal timeline – the worst of any state.
  4. Only seven states met the USDA’s benchmark by processing 95% of SNAP applications within the 30-day requirement.
  5. In Delaware, 71% of the SNAP benefit terminations, suspensions, or denials were done for incorrect reasons.

Further follows a breakdown of each part of the Quality Control System, along with the data for each state.

Payment Error Rates (PER)

The Payment Error Rate (PER) measures how accurate the payments for eligible recipients of SNAP are. It’s split between errors of overpayment, and underpayment.

The benchmark for states is when the error rate is combined for both, it should not exceed 6%.

Unfortunately, this is far from being the case with only seven states being below the 6% threshold.

Key Findings: 

  1. The only six states that are meeting the USDA benchmark are Kentucky (5.83%), Alabama (4.68%), Vermont (4.57%), Wisconsin (4.39%), Wyoming (4.3%), Idaho (3.44%), South Dakota (3.07%).
  2. Alaska has the worst error rate by a large margin with 56.97% of all payments having an error. Nearly all of it stemming from overpayment (56.69%).
  3. The biggest error comes from overpayment across all states. This also creates added stress for recipients who are legally required to pay back any excess amount received.

This is the full list of all state’s Payment Error Rates from the latest public report from 2022.

Application Processing Timeliness (APT)

The Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 states that everyone eligible for SNAP should receive their benefits within 30 days of their application. This is reduced to 7 days if they are eligible for expedited service.

The Application Processing Timeliness (APT) measures the time it takes the state to handle each application. The benchmark set by USDA is that the ATP rate should be above 95%.

In other words, each state should be able to handle 95% of all applications in time.

Based on the last publicly available numbers, this is however only achieved by six states.

Key Findings:

  1. District of Columbia only managed 42.86% of SNAP applications within the federal timeline – the worst of any state.
  2. The only states that managed to process applications on time were New Jersey (95.21%), Illinois (96.09%), Nevada (96.48%), Utah (96.77%), Wisconsin (97.74%), and Idaho (100%).

This is the full state breakdown based on the most recent APT data from 2022.

Program Access Index (PAI)

This calculates the state’s SNAP enrollment numbers against the number of people with income levels that’s below 125% of the federal poverty line.

It gives a snapshot understanding of how many people who likely are eligible for SNAP, are enrolled in the program. The lower the number, the higher the likelihood that the state is not supplying food stamps to people who would be eligible for them.

Wyoming is the state with the lowest PAI score. This is also reflective of our food stamp statistics study that showed Wyoming as the state with the least amount of people enrolled.

Note that in some cases a state can have a higher number than 1, granted people can also be eligible for SNAP even if they’re not below the 125% poverty line.

This is the most recent available state data from 2021.

Case and Procedural Error Rates (CAPER)

This category looks at the accuracy of applications for SNAP that were denied, terminated, or suspended. 

It also measures how compliant each state was with the federal procedures that are in place for these cases, as well as covering the time of handling the application and the notifications that were given to the applicants.

This indicator is broken down and measured into five sub-categories: 

  • Accuracy of Action: Whether the reason for the denial of SNAP benefits was correct.
  • Accuracy of Household Notice: Whether the notice given to the denied applicant was accurate and contained all required information. 
  • Accuracy of Procedures – Required and Completed: Shows the percentage of required procedures that were completed.
  • Accuracy of Procedures – Required and Not Completed: Shows the percentage of required procedures that were not completed.
  • Timeliness of Action and Notice: Tracks whether notices of denial were delivered in time.

We have compiled each state’s performance here from the most recent data covering 2022.

Particularly the “Accuracy of Action” – meaning how accurate the decision was to either deny, suspend, or terminate someone’s benefits – is alarmingly high in several states.

Exemplified particularly in Delaware where 70% of these cases were based on incorrect reasons.

Accuracy of Action

Showcasing how accurately the state’s reason was to either deny, suspend, or terminate someone’s SNAP support.

Accuracy of Household Notice

This measures a sample of notices given to people terminated, suspended, or denied SNAP and checks whether it was accurate or inaccurate.

Accuracy of Procedures – Required and Completed

This is the breakdown of how each state completed the required procedures set out by USDA for SNAP applicants.

Accuracy of Procedures – Required and Not Completed

This measures how often a set required procedure was not completed by each state.

Timeliness of Action and Notice

This presents an overview of the timeliness of action and notices given to SNAP applicants that were denied, terminated, or suspended.

Improvements Needed

SNAP, or food stamps as it’s often referred to, is one of the US’s biggest welfare programs with over 42 million Americans enrolled, and has a budget of over $120 billion for 2024.

While the program is federally run through the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) within USDA, it’s administered on a state level. And these numbers clearly show that there is a lot of room for improvement.