HELENA — The error rate in Montana’s food stamp program rose last year to more than twice the national average, according to federal officials.
A recent letter from Agriculture Department Under Secretary Kevin Concannon to Gov. Steve Bullock shows the rate of over and underpayments through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program at 7.25 percent, up from 6 percent the year before. The national average last year was 3.66 percent.
State officials said last year’s overpayments add up to just over $10,000 in taxpayer dollars.
Jon Ebelt, spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services which oversees SNAP, said Tuesday in an email that overpayment recovery is ongoing.
“While the department works hard to eliminate overpayments, it is a priority to recover the payments when they are discovered,” Ebelt said. “The majority are recovered via benefit reduction, cash collections and/or recovery of a tax refund.”
Concannon said in the letter because of the rising error rate they are designating about $110,000 of federal funding to improve the state’s SNAP administration, which could include additional staff training. Another $110,000 in federal funding will be set aside and could be levied as a fine if the rate doesn’t improve in 2015.
Bullock told The Associated Press the error rate is unacceptable and said he’s assembled a management team which includes top members of his staff to address the issue. They met for the first time Monday and will meet at least once a week to determine how to fix the state’s payment part of the program that gives $180 million in assistance per year.
“Even being at the national average is unacceptable,” Bullock said. “We need to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to ensure that overpayments or underpayments don’t occur.”
Nationally, the food stamp program error rate has been in a general decline. Improper payment rates have been reduced by more than half since 2000 and the SNAP error rate is among the lowest in the federal government.
In June, nearly 117,000 people in Montana received SNAP benefits.
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