Oh SNAP: Food assistance program errors at record low

Photo by Bruce Tuten used under a Creative Commons license

The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP for short, sometimes referred to as food stamps) is a lifeline in Oklahoma, providing food assistance to nearly one in six Oklahomans. Now a new report shows that the error rate for SNAP is at a record low. This report also means that virtually all Oklahomans receiving SNAP benefits qualify for them honestly — another reminder that Oklahoma’s economic prosperity is leaving many behind.

New data from the USDA shows that SNAP’s error rates are at an all-time low, after seven consecutive years of decreasing error rates. Overall, the national overpayment rate is now at 2.6 percent, and the underpayment rate at 0.6 percent, for a combined error rate of 3.2 percent.

Oklahoma didn’t achieve quite the same level of success, but the picture is still encouraging: its combined error rate of 3.99 percent places it cleanly in the middle of pack (26th). Its ranking for overpayment errors (3.11 percent) was the same. However, Oklahoma’s underpayment rate — that is, the rate of people erroneously denied some or all of their benefits — was higher. At 0.88 percent, Oklahoma has the 13th highest underpayment rate in the nation, indicating that SNAP administrators in Oklahoma are erring on the side of caution more than their counterparts in other states when evaluating applicants for benefits.

How are SNAP applicants evaluated?

The SNAP applicant evaluation process is fairly exhaustive. Applicants report their household income and other relevant information; a state worker interviews the applicant and then verifies information provided, usually by talking to a landlord or employer. Households must reapply periodically, typically every 6 or 12 months, and must report fluctuations in income. Families with income at or below the federal poverty level — about $20,000 per year for a family of three — are eligible.

How do errors happen?

The vast majority appear to be honest mistakes. These mistakes can occur at multiple points in the process, from applicants to translators to intake workers to data entry clerks to computer bugs. As the report notes, “States report that almost two-thirds of all overpayments and 90 percent of underpayments in recent years were their fault; most others resulted in innocent errors from households.”

The bottom line

chart2SNAP is a strong, well-run program, and a boon for Oklahoma. The new report shows SNAP benefits in Oklahoma are going to the right people. However, these numbers also show the extent to which the state’s economic prosperity is leaving too many Oklahomans behind. The one in six Oklahomans on food stamps includes 24,600 veterans, 116,000 disabled or elderly adults, and 294,000 children. Four out of every ten SNAP recipients in the state is a child.

SNAP enrollment is closely correlated with the health of the economy — enrollment increases during economic downturns and then decreases in more prosperous times. Oklahoma’s SNAP enrollment has remained flat for the last three years, but that’s after jumping 50 percent during the recession. Similarly, state food banks are reporting record amounts of food distributed this year, with no indication of decreasing need anytime soon.

It’s good to know that SNAP is working the way it’s supposed to, but it’s disheartening to receive yet more proof that the sound bites about Oklahoma’s quick recession recovery don’t apply to everyone.

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Carly Putnam joined OK Policy in 2013. As Policy Director, she supervises policy research and strategy. She previously worked as an OK Policy intern, and she was OK Policy's health care policy analyst through July 2020. She graduated from the University of Tulsa in 2013. As a student, she was a participant in the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute and interned with Planned Parenthood. Carly is a graduate of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Nonprofit Management Certification; the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking; The Mine, a social entrepreneurship fellowship in Tulsa; and Leadership Tulsa Class 62. She currently serves on the boards of Restore Hope Ministries and The Arc of Oklahoma. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and doing battle with her hundred year-old house.

One thought on “Oh SNAP: Food assistance program errors at record low

  1. I think the Food stamps need to go to the correct people and mostly are. The errors are sometimes because the clients are trying to hide some of their income made in cash or we cannot find anything on them until it comes up on dxd errors and then that shows an overpayment but this is the clients fault not ours because we look at all things we can and ask and ask them for all income and they just don’t report it to us and some just put down some kind of income lower just so they think they can get an EO which turns out not to be because they did not list all of just their unearnned income. Overall everything I think is going fine.

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