United Council on Welfare Fraud
Strengthening Integrity in our Public Assistance Programs
November 4, 2010
Deputy Administrator United States Department of Agriculture
Food and Nutrition Service
3101 Park Center Drive
Alexandria VA 22302
Dear Ms. Shahin:
The United Council on Welfare Fraud (UCOWF) is an organization of fraud investigators, administrators, prosecutors and collection agents from the United States and Canada. We were pleased to have David Burr of your office speak to our organization and the National Association of State Welfare Fraud Directors (NASWFD) at our annual conference in September in Raleigh, North Carolina. Mr. Burr suggested we share with you our ideas for enhancing program integrity in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), primarily related to simplified reporting rules. We understand simplified reporting is based on a statutory mandate and therefore, we offer the following changes, with explanation, for USDA’s consideration in advance of the 2012 Farm Bill.
Expand reporting requirements to include the following mandated changes during the certification period:
- household member incarcerated for a period of more than 30 days
- death of a household member
- move by the household
- Provide definition of a fleeing felon
Federal regulations at 273.1(b) (7) define ineligible household members, including language related to residents of an institution. A jail or prison meets the definition of an institution, and therefore, household members who are incarcerated for more than 30 days should not be eligible for SNAP. Under current simplified reporting rules, if a household member is incarcerated during the first month of the certification period, the household is not required to report this change until periodic report or recertification, whichever comes first, which means benefits are issued for several months for that individual or household, if it is a household of one, when the institution is meeting the individual’s food needs. In the case of a one person household, states often find the benefits are transacted by a non household member, such as a relative or a boyfriend/girlfriend. The same logic applies to a household in which a household member dies during the certification period.
Even though SNAP is operated in most instances under the same federal rules in all states, when a household moves to another state, there may also be a change in shelter expenses, household composition, and/or employment/income which could impact the household’s eligibility or the amount of benefits received. In addition, it is important for states to know the whereabouts of the household for notification purposes. Regulation at 273.3 (a) states “a household shall live in the State in which it files an application for participation”. There is a provision in 273.3 (b) for transfer of a case to another locality within a state if the individual reports a move. This section could be amended to include case transfer to another state, with a desk review by the receiving state within a specified time period to avoid a delay in the receipt of benefits based on an application in the new state.
Fleeing felons, per 273.11(n), are ineligible household members. The term “fleeing” must be defined. For example, is an individual with an outstanding warrant in another state considered fleeing if the individual has knowledge of the warrant but the other state chooses not to extradite the individual and the charge remains outstanding?
Finally, we have some concern with the increased use of electronic applications, electronic signatures, and telephone interviews in relation to prosecutions, and to some extent Administrative Disqualification Hearings. The identity of the individual who completed the application and provided the information on which eligibility was determined is key to a successful prosecution. We understand the desire to increase program accessibility, but there must accountability. The public’s trust is paramount.
We appreciate the opportunity for input as we strive to work together to ensure a balance between program accessibility and program integrity. The taxpayers of our great nation deserve nothing less. We believe our suggestions and comments have merit and we welcome the opportunity to discuss them with you in more detail.
John Bumford, President
Bruce Carmichael and Scott Fitts, Co-chairpersons of NASWFD
c: Paula Hisle, Co-chairperson, UCOWF Intergovernmental Committee
Sandy Smith, Co-chairperson, UCOWF Intergovernmental Committee