Oh, SNAP! Colorado misspent $45 million in food stamp dollars last year


FAIL: Colorado misspent $45 million in food stamp money in 2013.

By Andrew Collins | Watchdog.org

Colorado offers tons of fail in its food stamp program and, unfortunately for taxpayers, the fail is growing.

Colorado misspent $45.7 million in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program payments in 2013, according to data released by the United States Department of Agriculture.

In percentage terms, Colorado misspent, either through underpayment or overpayment, 5.59 percent of the $818 million in SNAP benefits the state distributed last year, a figure more than 2 percentage points higher than the national average of 3.42 percent.

Colorado messed up 4.55 percent of food stamps payments in 2012 and 4.45 percent in 2011.

In the program, overpaying and underpaying benefits qualify as errors. Colorado’s overpayment rate of 4.12 percent ranks as 12th worst out of all the states and is well above the national average of 2.77 percent. The state overpaid more than $33 million in food stamp benefits last year.

With a .44 percent error rate, Virginia beat out others for the best-performing state. Rhode Island came in dead last with an 8.25 percent error rate.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture rewards states for low error rates and those with with high error rates.

Levetta Love, director of the Office of Economic Security with the Colorado Department of Human Services, said the feds did not penalize the state because the error rate registered below 6 percent.

Colorado, though, did not receive a performance bonus from the federal government due to the poor error rate.

“The state takes the error rate very seriously,” she told Watchdog.org, noting that even though the error rate is up from the previous two years it ultimately has declined from 7 percent in 2005. That decrease, she said, corresponds with a national trend of decreasing rates in errant SNAP payments.

“Unfortunately, Colorado’s rate of decrease has not kept up with the rest of the nation,” she said. “It’s not one-size-fits-all.”

There are many strategies needed to reduce the error rate, Love said. As an example, she said the CDHS is working with its county and quality-assured coordinators on a regular basis.

“We were able to include several changes to our automated system over the last couple of years that have improved and increased our accuracy,” she said, pointing to measures the CDHS has taken to pull in data that allows it to identify and track error rates in individual counties every month to keep them accountable.

Food stamp spending nationwide has more than doubled since 2008 and more than quadrupled since 2001. The program cost taxpayers almost $80 billion in 2013.

In 2013, some 3,556,500 people signed up for SNAP benefits, an increase of more than 200,000 from the year before.

Colorado’s food stamp rolls increased to more than 507,000 in 2013, up from about 319,000 in 2009.