Nearly 2000 beneficiaries of the food stamp program continued to receive benefits after their deaths in Ohio, according to an audit from the state’s auditor.
The audit evaluated a six-month period in 2015 and found that there were 36 instances where dead people received benefits for more than a year after their death and 1,862 instances where dead people received benefits for less than a year.
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"In some cases, someone was still using the card," explained Dave Yost, the Ohio auditor of state, who testified to lawmakers on Wednesday. "Federal law requires at least an annual comparison of death records against the list of beneficiaries—so the number should have been zero."
The report also found 1,510 cases where food stamp cards had excessive balances.
"We also found 1,337 recipients with balances greater than $2,300 – about twice the maximum benefits for a family of eight," Yost said. "Some 173 had balances of more than $5,000—including one with more than $20,000. If you can bank thousands of dollars, you are not in immediate need."
The audit found other cases of fraud such as purchases being made at a grocery store at the same time, with the same exact total every month for six months in a row. Other examples involved one beneficiary making six purchases for $1,555 within an hour. Even though beneficiaries can use their food stamp cards across state lines, $28.7 million dollars was spent outside of Ohio, including states as far away as New York, Florida, and Texas.
"The federal Public Assistance Reporting Information System (PARIS) uses data-matching to identify people who might receive duplicate benefits in two or more states," Yost says. "But the states only have to submit information once a year and are not required to report on [the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program]. This important program needs to be strengthened."
According to an auditor at the Government Accountability Office, there were $2.6 billion of food stamp payments made in fiscal year 2014 that were considered improper, meaning they were paid in the incorrect amount or should not have been made at all.
"The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has designated SNAP as a high-error program due to the estimated dollar amount in improper payments," the auditor said.
The auditor also evaluated which food stamp policies have affected improper payments.
"Some federal policy changes that resulted in fewer sources of income and resources being considered during the eligibility and benefit determination process may have also affected the likelihood of errors," the report said. "A federal policy change that increased requirements for data matching may have reduced the likelihood of errors by improving the accuracy of eligibility and benefit determination."
An associate administrator at the Food and Nutrition Service told lawmakers that the agency would continue to pay close attention to these issues and to act to reduce fraud and improper payments.
"We will continue to work with states, to ensure that they take the actions necessary to protect the integrity of this critical program," said Jessica Shahin, administrator at the agency. "I speak for all of my colleagues at [the Food and Nutrition Service] when I say that ensuring that SNAP meets the highest standards of integrity is a top priority and central to our efforts to ensure that those who need help affording food get the help they need."