Food stamps cut off mostly for non-financial reasons, audit finds
When a Louisiana family loses public food assistance, it’s most often not because they don’t qualify for it. A new report from the state Legislative Auditor found that more than half the time the reasons are procedural rather than financial.
The auditor conducted an efficiency review of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) within the state Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), as requested through a legislative resolution approved last year. The review covered SNAP cases from 2018 through 2022, a period during which federal pandemic money allowed Louisiana to increase the number of families receiving food aid.
Out of more than 1.48 million SNAP cases over that time, 81.1% were closed for non-financial reasons. Nearly 60% of those families who lose benefits have them restored, or churned, within three months. SNAP recipients have to complete a form once they reach the midpoint of their benefits period and another at the end to determine if they are still eligible. If they don’t finish them on time, they could lose benefits even though they might still qualify for assistance.
“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.
The audit also found the DCFS system for tracking SNAP complaints doesn’t allow department staff to identify trends or resolve problems in a timely manner. In a review of 2,146 complaints from 2018 through last year, a field for determining whether it was valid or not was left blank on more than one-third of the forms. Another spot where DCFS staff can declare problems resolved was left blank on 26% of complaints.
In her response to the auditor’s report, DFCS Secretary Terri Ricks concurred with the finding and said that corrective action is being taken to address the problem at the parish and state level.
Issues with the DCFS call center that handles SNAP benefits were also highlighted in the audit. The vendor’s contract requires that all calls be answered in six minutes or less. Auditors found that the time limit was exceeded on average in seven of the 14 months reviewed.
The average call answer ranged from a high of nearly 51 minutes in September 2021 to a low of 9 seconds in October 2022.
Ricks told the auditor DCFS would take action if the call center operator does not meet its required call answer times.