Auditor: Some food stamps improperly distributed

More than 1,700 prisoners improperly received benefits through Louisiana’s food stamp program between 2010 and 2012, according to a report issued Monday by the Legislative Auditor’s Office.

The report also found that the agency errors in administering the program results in overpayments of $841,615 during the two-year period.

The findings are included in a performance audit of the state Department of Children and Family Services administration of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The program was previously known as food stamps.

Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera said his office provided recommendations to help the office pick up on “the red flags of fraud” it identified with through the audit.

“What we are recommending is that they do a greater level of analytical comparison of data,” Purpera said.

Purpera said “red flags” included the use of an entire monthly benefit at one retailer; 3,000 people spending $2 million out of state “raising the potential of a benefit card being sold to people from the other state,” and people receiving food stamps with household income in excess of $50,000.

Purpera noted that between 2008 and 2012, the number of SNAP participants increased 37 percent from 631,376 to 866,335 and annual expenditures jumped 81 percent from $783 million to $1.4 billion

“We are becoming a population very dependent on food stamps,” Purpera said.

Department of Children and Family Services Secretary Suzy Sonnier concurred with the auditor’s recommendations and said some fixes have already been made while others are in the works.

Sonnier advised that the agency will develop a memorandum of understanding with the corrections department and “potentially” a computer interface to exchange data.

“Over the past two years, DCFS has worked to modernize its systems with the launch of CAFE, which provides greater safeguards in determining eligibility such as data mining with our federal and state partners,” Sonnier said in a statement issued by her office.

She said the agency’s overall error payment rate has improved to fourth in the nation.

At the time of the conclusion of the audit, there were some 880,000 food stamp beneficiaries in Louisiana. The average SNAP benefit for a household was $312.32 per month.

The audit found SNAP benefits totaling $1.1 million went to 1,761 people in prison during fiscal years 2011 and 2012.

In addition, 84 drug felons redeemed more than $100,000 in benefits that they were not eligible to receive.

The auditor noted a U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General report that identified 1,573 recipients who were receiving duplicate benefits in Louisiana and other states from March 2010 to March 2011 for three consecutive months.

Children and Family Services said it was only responsible for 605 of the cases. The rest were the responsibility of other states.

The auditor’s report also found that 3,060 SNAP participants used all of their fiscal year 2012 benefits totaling more than $2 million in other states even though they were certified in Louisiana.

State agency errors resulted in $841,615 being overpaid to 1,157 beneficiaries, the audit said.