Tuesday, June 05, 2018
State audit shows dead people, people in prison receiving government food assistance
State Auditor Nicole Galloway today released an audit of the Department of Social Services' (DSS) food assistance program, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, which found millions of dollars in questionable transactions by recipients who were deceased, incarcerated or making purchases exclusively out of state. The audit, which was performed by the Auditor's data analytics team, found issues with the integrity and accuracy of data and made recommendations to ensure potential fraud is identified quickly.
"This audit found hundreds of thousands of SNAP transactions that raised red flags, but were not seriously investigated by the Department of Social Services," Auditor Galloway said. "Misuse or abuse of these benefits means that taxpayer dollars are wasted and resources are not going to Missouri families in need."
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, is a federal program administered through the Missouri Department of Social Services. The department provides benefits to low-income Missourians by loading them on EBT cards to purchase groceries. The report found the department consistently failed to review and investigate suspicious activity identified through system alerts. During an 18-month period, there were more than 51,000 alerts, but DSS cited a lack of resources to investigate questionable account activity.
The majority of suspicious activity alerts were for recipients using their benefits out of state. The audit identified $16 million in purchases made exclusively out of state for 90 consecutive days or more. Thirty-nine recipients used EBT cards exclusively out of state for more than 700 days. While some out-of-state use is permitted under federal guidelines, it is also an indication that a recipient may no longer be a Missouri resident and no longer eligible for benefits through the state.
The report also identified weaknesses in the system that resulted in benefits going to households with recipients who were incarcerated or no longer living. In 3,668 cases, an EBT card was used more than 30 days after the death of the cardholder. The report also identified 62 cases receiving SNAP benefits, but the cardholder was incarcerated throughout the entire period reviewed. Similarly for an additional 2,358 cases, the cardholder was incarcerated during some portion of the period reviewed.
"We even found a case where a recipient who was in jail completed a recertification interview by phone with a Social Services caseworker," Auditor Galloway said. "These types of situations show exactly why the department needs to take these recommendations seriously and ensure they are able to root out bad actors who are abusing the system."
Recommendations included improving data quality and accuracy within the system. Transaction data is often incomplete, invalid or unreliable, making it difficult to manage information and identify fraud. The audit also recommended that DSS use data analytics to proactively identify and investigate benefit abuse and misuse.
Auditors also identified an error in the system that resulted in fewer alerts for even-dollar transactions, a warning sign of fraudulent behavior, and recommended additional protections to identify high-risk recipients who use their cards multiple times within a short period.
The complete audit report is online here.