USDA Misspent $2.4 Billion on Food Stamps This Year

One in four Americans still receive government food assistance

Grocery store
Grocery store / AP
November 17, 2014

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued over $2.4 billion in improper payments on food stamps in fiscal year 2014, according to a new audit by the Office of Inspector General (OIG).

In a report detailing the agency’s financial statements for the year, the OIG accounted for improper payments made from the most high-risk Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) programs.

The OIG said the government has been building up the food "safety net" for decades, adding programs so that now one in four Americans now receive federal food assistance.

"Over the past half-century—beginning with the National School Lunch Program in 1946—the nation has gradually built an array of nutrition assistance programs designed to help the most vulnerable populations meet their food needs," the report said. "Taken together, the current programs form a nationwide safety net supporting low-income families and individuals in their efforts to escape food insecurity and hunger and achieve healthy, nutritious diets."

"Currently, the programs administered by FNS touch the lives of one in four Americans over the course of a year," the OIG added.

The report said the programs are designed to increase "food security" and healthy eating in a way that "inspires public confidence," though the USDA is still misspending billions on food assistance.

According to the report, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, issued $2.437 billion in improper payments this year.

The program, described as the "foundation of America’s nutrition assistance program system," provides food stamps to an average of more than 47 million people each month.

In addition, 15.25 percent of payments through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) were improper, totaling $1.748 billion. Thirty million children participate in the program, including 21 million who receive free or reduced price lunch from the federal government.

The school breakfast program accounted for $923 million in improper payments, with a rate of 25.61 percent, the highest reported. The Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program issued $206 million improper payments, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program, which provides food and snacks to day cares, issued $10 million worth of improper payments.

In all, the OIG reported $5.325 billion in improper payments from these five programs, the vast majority of which were overpayments.

Improper payments are defined as those "made to an ineligible recipient, a payment for an ineligible good or service, or a payment for goods or services not received."

The report also detailed that the USDA has asked for 333 full-time employees for the food stamp program in FY 2015, nearly double the number of employees SNAP had in 2013 when 170 employees worked for the program.

There are currently 1,359 full-time permanent employees at the FNS, though the USDA would like to employ more than 1,600 in the coming year.