Public Assistance:

PARIS Project Can Help States Reduce Improper Benefit Payments

GAO-01-935: Published: Sep 6, 2001. Publicly Released: Oct 10, 2001.

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Public assistance programs make millions of dollars in improper payments every year. Some of these improper payments occur because state and local agencies that run the programs lack adequate, timely information to determine recipients' eligibility for assistance. This inability to share information can result in both federal and state tax dollars being needlessly spent on benefits for the same individuals and families in more than one state. In 1997, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) began a project to help states share eligibility information with one another. The public assistance reporting information system (PARIS) interstate match helps states share information on public assistance programs, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Food Stamps, to identify individuals or families who may be receiving benefit payments in more than one state simultaneously. Officials in almost all of the 16 states and the District of Columbia that participated in PARIS said that the project has helped identify improper TANF, Medicaid, or Food Stamp payments. Despite its successes, the project has several limitations. First, the opportunity to detect improper duplicate payments is not as great as it could be because only one-third of the states participate. Second, participating states do not have adequate protocols or guidelines to facilitate critical interstate communication. As a result, some states have reported critical problems, such as difficulty determining whether an individual identified in a match is actually receiving benefits in another state. Third, state administrators for the TANF, Medicaid, and Food Stamp programs have not always placed adequate priority on using PARIS matches to identify recipients who are living in other states. As a result, individuals may continue to receive or have benefits paid on their behalf in more than one state even after they were identified through the matching process. Finally, because the PARIS match is only designed to identify people after they are already on the rolls, it does not enable the states to prevent improper payments from being made in the first place.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To help states improve the effectiveness of the PARIS and prevent duplicate payments to TANF and Medicaid recipients, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Administrators of ACF and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to formally support PARIS and provide guidance to participating states. Such support and guidance should include creating a focal point charged with helping state more effectively coordinate and communicate with one another. An existing entity, such as the Interagency Working Group, could provide the mechanism for such a focal point. This entity could also serve as a clearinghouse for sharing best practices information that all states could use to improve their procedures, such as comparisons of match filtering systems.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In fiscal year 2005, the Department of Health and Human Service's Administration for Children and Families (ACF) received $2 million in federal funding to establish an FTE position to manage the PARIS project and serve as the central focal point for PARIS activities. The agency hired a manager to oversee the PARIS project and work with states to improve the effectiveness of the project.

    Recommendation: To help states improve the effectiveness of the PARIS and prevent duplicate payments to TANF and Medicaid recipients, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct ACF and CMS to formally support PARIS and provide guidance to participating states. Such support and guidance should include taking the lead to help the PARIS states develop a more formal set of protocols or guidelines for coordinating their match follow-up activities and communicating with one another.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: ACF has developed a website dedicated to informing states about the PARIS project and helping provide information about participation, data formatting procedures, best practices and relevant state contacts. Moreover, ACF continues to provide detailed guidance on PARIS through an annual conference designed to help states develop uniform protocols for participating in PARIS and encourage states that do not currently participate to consider doing so. ACF is also in the process of awarding a contract to help the agency evaluate the cost-effectiveness of the PARIS project.

    Recommendation: To help states improve the effectiveness of the PARIS and prevent duplicate payments to TANF and Medicaid recipients, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct ACF and CMS to formally support PARIS and provide guidance to participating states. Such support and guidance should include developing a plan to reach out to nonparticipating states and encourage them to become involved in PARIS. At a minimum, all states should be encouraged to provide their TANF and Medicaid recipient data for other states to match, even if they choose not to fully participate in PARIS. This would help to ensure that all recipients nationally are included in PARIS matches.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: ACF has developed a dual-track approach for encouraging non-participating states to become involved in PARIS. First, the agency has developed a website that highlights specific examples of how participating states have saved millions of dollars in TANF, Food Stamp, and SSI/Medicaid funds through the project. Secondly, ACF has distributed a grant announcement for non-participating states to encourage them to become involved in PARIS, as well as working with other states in an attempt to improve existing procedures and realize additional savings from the project.

    Recommendation: To help states improve the effectiveness of the PARIS and prevent duplicate payments to TANF and Medicaid recipients, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct ACF and CMS to formally support PARIS and provide guidance to participating states. Such support and guidance should include coordinating with the USDA/FNS Food Stamp program to encourage their participation in PARIS at the federal level as well as their working more closely with individual states to improve the effectiveness of PARIS and helping more states to participate.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: ACF has developed an interagency workgroup to encourage other agencies to become involved in PARIS. For example, the Food and Nutrition Service is participating in a PARIS Project evaluation panel and is working with ACF to find the best contractor to carry out the evaluation project.

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