Colorado Wastes Millions with Bungled Food Stamp Payments
By Dustin Hurst | Colorado Watchdog
When it comes to massive government programs, small mistakes can mean big bucks in waste.
Such is case with Colorado’s food stamp program, which hands out millions of dollars in food aid annually to needy state residents. According to federal documents, Colorado is bungling more food stamp payments than the average state and it costs taxpayers millions each year.
In 2012, Colorado bungled 4.55 percent of the payments, either by overpaying recipients or underpaying them. Records show that over those erroneous payments, 3.23 percent were over payments.
Nationwide, Florida enjoyed the lowest total error rate last year, botching a mere 0.77 percent of payments. Rhode Island led the nation in flawed transfers, with a 7.36 percent error rate.
Collectively, states averaged 3.42 percent.
Colorado’s 2012 rate jumped up 2011, when the state reported 4.55 percent in erroneous payments. According to records, Colorado overpaid by $24 million in 2011, including $9 million in underpayments. That year, the state paid out more than $762 million in federally-funded food stamp payments.
Similar data is not yet available for 2012.
In 2010, Colorado reported 3.18 percent in erroneous payments, while overpaying $11 million in food benefits and underpaying $10 million.
The state’s trend, a steady upward march, contradicts the nation’s progress in cracking down on faulty payments. Between 2002 and 2012, the national average error rate dropped from 8.62 percent to 3.42 percent.
In 2011, the states reported more than $2.7 billion in erroneous payments, including $2.1 billion in overpayments.
According to a 2010 Government Accountability Office report to Congress, state workers administering the program caused about 66 percent of the errors.
Why? Well, the complexity of program rules and guidelines.
“This complexity increases the risk that caseworkers will make errors when considering all the factors needed to determine eligibility,” the report said. “For example, caseworkers must verify several types of household assets to determine eligibility and benefit amounts, such as bank accounts, property, and vehicles.”
Alternatively, the report says that recipient caused errors are “difficult” to prevent.
Colorado’s walk to a higher error rate comes as the state continues to see sky-high program usage as families look to utilize government programs to weather a sluggish economy. More than half-a-million Coloradans received food stamps in 2012, up from 250,000 just four years earlier.
Nationally, more than 47.6 million Americans – or about 23 million households – receive food stamps. The average benefit is $133 per person and $275 per household. Those benefits will be cut, though, as a temporary boost to food stamps provided by the 2009 stimulus package expires at the end of October.
Colorado Watchdog has a call in to officials looking for an explanation of Colorado’s rising rate.
Contact Hurst at Dustin@Watchdog.org.