NM has mixed numbers on food stamp efficiency

Cross-posted from watchdog.org:

SANTA FE – New Mexico has one of the highest rates in the country for people receiving food stamps, but how accurately those benefits are distributed is decidedly mixed.

A look by New Mexico Watchdog at the latest national statistics from the federal government shows both good news and bad.

On the positive side, the error rate for New Mexico has gone down by a healthy margin in the most recent six fiscal years studied by U.S. Department of Agriculture — from an error rate of 7.42 in fiscal 2007 to 3.73 in fiscal 2012. That represents a cut in the percentage of mistakes by fully one-half.

The bad news?

The error rate is still above the national average of 3.42 ,and in fiscal 2011 that translated into $22.57 million the state overpaid to recipients of food stamps — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

“We’re managing the program more effectively,” said Matt Kennicott, spokesman for the Human Services Department, which oversees SNAP distribution in New Mexico.

Here’s a look at the states (including the District of Columbia) with the best and worst error rates in fiscal 2012:

SNAP error rates

A look at the data over the past six fiscal years shows that New Mexico’s error rate has always been above the national average.

That could be explained by the sheer number of New Mexico residents receiving food stamps. More than one in five residents of New Mexico receive SNAP benefits (21 percent), tied for third with Oregon and Tennessee as the states with the highest percentage of the population getting food stamps.

But there doesn’t appear be much of a relationship between the percentage of a state’s population on SNAP and the error rates.

For example, four of the states that also have 20 percent or more of their residents receiving SNAP benefits have lower error rates than New Mexico — Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia and Louisana.

A little known fact: There’s money to be made for states that do the most accurate jobs distributing SNAP benefits.

The federal government divides $24 million among the states that have the lowest error rates or show the most improvement. For example, Florida received more than $8 million for having the lowest error rate in the country, and Alabama received $1.8 million for reducing their mistakes by the largest percentage and finishing eighth in the nation for having lowest error rate.

The number of Americans receiving food stamps has reached a record high.

The rate increased 2.4 percent in May, bringing the total number to 15 percent of the U.S. population receiving SNAP benefits, which translates into 47.6 million.

The reasons?

First, the nation’s lagging economic numbers coming out of the recession and, second, expanding food stamp eligibility requirements in the 2002 farm bill under then-President George W. Bush, which was followed up on by President Obama in the 2009 stimulus package.

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