USDA has cleared the state of Arizona to test a program aimed at limiting fraud and reducing illegal trafficking in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) electronic benefit (EBT) cards. The two-year waiver, granted by USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES), will allow the state to require direct contact with SNAP benefit recipients who request a replacement EBT card more than two times in a 12 month period.
“We want to make sure that people are getting the nutrition they need, but we also must maintain the integrity of the SNAP program for the benefit of recipients and for the protection of the taxpayers,” said Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “As is the case with this Arizona waiver, USDA will consider state flexibilities where the goals are to help people transition into self-sufficient lives, to improve customer service, or to stop fraud and abuse.”
Arizona requested the waiver to test if requiring earlier contacts with recipients requesting replacement EBT cards will improve program integrity.
“I appreciate Secretary Perdue’s willingness to work with states to improve the administration of this program,” said Arizona Governor Doug Ducey. “Through this policy, we can provide a hand up to those in need while ensuring we have the tools necessary to crack down on fraud and protect taxpayers.”
To assess the effectiveness of this waiver, Arizona DES will collect data and report to FNS during the waiver period – through November 2019 -- to show what impact the lower replacement card threshold has on potential misuse of program benefits.
“SNAP was created to provide people with the help they need to feed themselves and their families, but it was not intended to be a permanent lifestyle,” Perdue said. “As a former governor, I know first-hand how important it is for states to be given flexibility to achieve the desired goal of self-sufficiency for people. We want to provide the nutrition people need, but we also want to help them transition from government programs, back to work, and into lives of independence.”
The pledge to provide greater local control to help people achieve self-sufficiency echoed themes Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Acting Deputy Under Secretary and Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) Administrator Brandon Lipps expressed in a letter to all state SNAP commissioners. Lipps’ letter listed the areas the new flexibilities will address:
- Self-Sufficiency - People who can work, should work. We must facilitate the transition for individuals and families to become independent, specifically by partnering with key stakeholders in the workforce development community and holding our recipients accountable for personal responsibility.
- Integrity - We will not tolerate waste, fraud, or abuse from those who seek to undermine our mission or who do not take their responsibility seriously.
- Customer Service - In order to achieve a high degree of customer service, we at FNS must also provide states the flexibility to test new and better ways to administer our programs, recognizing that we are all accountable to the American taxpayer for the outcomes.
“We believe states are laboratories of innovation and seek to learn from you what works and what does not,” Lipps wrote. “As necessary to address each of these focus areas, we will allow greater state flexibility in areas that do not increase costs to taxpayers or our various partners on the ground.”
As FNS announces specific new flexibilities for promoting independence in the coming weeks, the agency will also continue to welcome additional ideas from the states that improve program integrity and best serve the participant and the American taxpayer.
The Secretaries Innovation Group, which represents state social service secretaries from 20 Republican administrations, made 14 policy proposals regarding the food stamp program. Changes proposed to the program mirror those proposals. – HeraldNet
The Union of Concerned Scientists says the proposed changes could open the door for drug testing and misguided work requirements. – Union of Concerned Scientists
Nutrition programs, including SNAP, make up about 80% of the USDA budget. About 44 million people participated in SNAP each month in 2016. – South Carolina Public Radio