Feds reward Virginia for botching least food stamp funds


OH, SNAP: Virginia had the lowest payment error rate in the country in 2013, but there’s still lots of work to be done.

By Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau

ALEXANDRIA, VA .— Virginia screwed up fewer food stamp payments than any other state in 2013, and for that, the federal government is rewarding the state with a $1.7 million bonus.

The state either overpaid or underpaid .44 percent of the $1.4 billion it issued in 2013 (about $6 million), an improvement from the 1.76 percent of payments Virginia overpaid or underpaid the previous year. The state received a performance bonus then, too. Roughly 1 million Virginians — more than 1 in 10 — are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps.

“This award underscores Virginia’s dedication to serving those in need throughout the commonwealth while ensuring a high level of program integrity,” Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in a statement.

Of course, Virginians are still helping foot the more than $2 billion in overpayments nationally that the country issued in 2013. And payment error rates have nothing to do with fraud. That’s another statistic entirely, one that isn’t quite as easy to track.

As Watchdog.org has reported, the federal regional office that handles SNAP says it won’t release how much individual retailers are benefiting from SNAP dollars, even though reporters in other parts of the country have been given the same information.

What the federal government doesn’t reward are states that reduce the number of folks on food stamps by improving their economies and job availabilities. News reports have illustrated how some SNAP officials even spend time persuading those who want to support themselves to join.

The number of Virginians on SNAP has grown far faster than Virginia’s population has.

In December 2001, when the state’s population was about 7.2 million, 345,000 Virginians were enrolled in the program. In December 2008, that number had nearly doubled to 608,000. By December 2013, with Virginia’s population hovering around 8.2 million, the number of people receiving the benefit climbed to 935,000, according to state records.

The maximum amount a family of four can receive on a monthly basis through SNAP is $632.

— Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter for Watchdog.org, and can be found on Twitter @kathrynw5.