Sunday, May 26, 2024

Audit shows increase in error rate for Louisiana’s SNAP program

by BIZ Magazine

By Victor Skinner | The Center Square contributor

The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services’ error rate for processing federal food assistance jumped dramatically in recent years, particularly for cases that were denied, suspended or terminated.

Louisiana Legislative Auditor Mike Waguespack issued a report last week on how DCFS administers Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits in response to House Resolution 248 from the 2022 regular session, which requested an efficiency audit.

In addition to the high error rates, auditors found an increase in complaints in 2022, as well as longer wait times for DCFS’ Customer Service Call Center over the last 14 months.

The report shows that the vast majority of SNAP cases closed by the department were not for income eligibility reasons, but rather non-financial procedural reasons.

“During federal fiscal years 2018 through 2022, 1,202,816 (81.1%) of 1,482,998 SNAP cases that closed were closed for non-financial procedural reasons, and from January 2019 through February 2020, 61,628 (59.5%) of 103,510 cases closed were churned, meaning they were re-opened within 90 days of closure,” auditors wrote.

The churn came as DCFS errors increased significantly between 2018 and 2022.

“The percent of active SNAP cases reviewed for (quality control) that had errors rose from 4.4% in federal fiscal year 2018 to 44.9% in 2022, while the percent of negative SNAP cases reviewed for (quality control) and had errors increased from 33.2% to 59.8%,” according to the report.

Active cases refers to households participating in SNAP, while the negative cases involves those denied, suspended, or terminated.

Auditors also noted that while DCFS has a process to track complaints about SNAP, missing data means it’s difficult to follow trends on whether complaints are valid or resolved.

“For example, while there is a field for inputting if a complaint is valid or invalid, 760 (35.4%) of 2,146 complaint records were blank in this field,” according to the LLA report. “During federal fiscal years 2018 through 2022, there were an average of 846,525 SNAP participants each year and during that time, DCFS received at least 2,146 complaints.”

A breakdown of the complaints shows 644 in 2018, before declining to a low of 167 in 2020. The complaints then increased to 749 in 2022.

The final finding of the report focuses on the contractual obligations for DCFS’ Customer Service Call Center vendor. The DCFS contract calls for the average speed to answer calls not to exceed six minutes, but auditors found times were longer in seven of 14 months reviewed.

“The average speed ranged from a high of 50 minutes and 49 seconds in September 2021 to a low of nine seconds in October 2022,” the report read.

DCFS Secretary Terri Ricks responded to the LLA report in a letter to Waguespack on Feb. 17 that concurred with the findings and outlined what DCFS is doing to resolve them.

DCFS sent a corrective action memo to staff on entering complaints into the tracking system, and vowed to follow through with each complaint through resolution with staff assigned to each complaint. Monthly reports on the complaints will also be reviewed by the customer relations manager on a quarterly basis, and will be shared with regional administrators and directors to identify trends or training opportunities, Ricks wrote.

In addition, Ricks vowed DCFS’ client services manager will hold weekly meetings with the call center vendor to hold them to contract requirements, and to withhold partial payment if it doesn’t resolve issues within a month.

“If the deficiency is not corrected within the 30 days of the corrective action period, the CSC vendor will receive a reduction of 5% of each month’s invoice up to 20%, beginning the first month of the corrective action period,” Ricks wrote.

For subsequent issues, DCFS will impose the reduction without the 30 day corrective action period.

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