Why do Louisianans lose SNAP benefits? Many times it has nothing to do with money.
Nearly 1.5 million households stopped receiving federal food assistance in Louisiana during a four-year period, and more than 80% of those cases were closed due to “non-financial procedural reasons,” rather than having too much income, an audit by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor found.
The audit showed that around 1.2 million Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, cases in Louisiana during the period from fiscal year 2018 through fiscal year 2022 were closed due to non-financial procedural reasons, accounting for around 81.1% of all cases closures.
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SNAP, which was previously known as “food stamps,” is a federal program created in 1964 to help low-income households buy food. As of November 2022, the state had more than 900,000 residents receiving SNAP benefits.
The legislative auditor’s office wrote in the report that households losing benefits due to these procedural issues can cause more work for the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services, which oversees SNAP in Louisiana. When these households lose their benefits, they may have to re-apply to regain their benefits.
“Those who lose benefits for a non-financial procedural reason may need to re-apply, which creates more work for agency staff,” the audit said. “When SNAP participants exit SNAP only to return to the program soon after, this is known as churn.”
Louisiana’s SNAP program has a fairly high churn rate, the audit found. Between January 2019 and February 2020, around 103,510 SNAP cases were closed. Of those, 61, 628 – around 59.5% – were reopened within 90 days.
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According to the audit, the most common non-financial procedural reason for Louisiana households to lose benefits was not completing redetermination or a simplified report, which was the case for 58.1% of these cases in fiscal year 2022.
Relatively few SNAP cases were closed due to households earning too much money, not meeting work requirements or for reasons like drug conviction, moving out of state or death. From fiscal year 2018 through fiscal year 2022, 6.6% of closed cases were due to a drug conviction, moving or death, and 8.5% were due to earned or unearned income. Around 1.8% of closures were due to not meeting certain work requirements or not cooperating with quality control measures.
The audit also found that the Louisiana DCFS saw a significant increase in its error rate from fiscal year 2018 through fiscal year 2022. For active cases – cases where households are currently receiving benefits – the error rate rose from 4.4% in 2018 to 44.9% in 2022. For negative cases where benefits were denied, suspended or terminated, the error rate rose from 33.2% to 59.8%,
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In active cases, these errors can lead to paying out too much or too little in benefits or giving benefits to ineligible recipients. In negative cases, the errors can mean that the decision to deny, suspend or terminate benefits was incorrect.
The audit also found that DCFS’s system for receiving complaints has some deficiencies in allowing the agency to track trends or determine if the complaints are valid. The department’s call center vendor has also not been meeting its contractual obligations, the audit said.