Food Stamp Program:

Refinements Needed To Improve Accuracy of Quality Control Error Rates

RCED-86-195: Published: Sep 19, 1986. Publicly Released: Sep 19, 1986.

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GAO discussed the reliability of the Food Stamp Program's error rates, which served as the basis for sanctions that the Department of Agriculture (USDA) assessed against states for excessive errors they made in determining fiscal year 1984 program eligibility and benefit levels.

GAO found that: (1) in the three states it evaluated, the federal and state quality control reviews (QCR) were generally adequate, but the QCR process could have been improved; (2) USDA and the three states properly conducted QCR of cases representative of the overall food stamp case load; (3) a USDA regulation required states to drop cases from the QCR process that they could have completed; (4) the dropped cases were about twice as error-prone as completed cases and, if completed, would have increased error rates in all three states and sanctions in two of the three states; and (5) in computing the official error rates, USDA made statistical and mathematical mistakes for 13 of the 25 states.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA sent FNS regional offices a memo, dated March 4, 1987, requiring states to complete reviews of cases. However, USDA does not believe that it needs the legislative authority recommended by GAO and considers this recommendation closed.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should change food stamp regulations governing the QCR process to specify that FNS regional offices have the authority to require states to complete reviews of cases for which the region believes sufficient information has been obtained or can be obtained to complete a review. The Secretary of Agriculture should consider augmenting this authority by asking Congress for authority to assess states for the costs the federal government incurs when completing reviews of cases dropped by states.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA has contracted for a study designed to determine the key factors in the QCR process that would uncover actual or possible ineligibility. USDA will also be taking into consideration the requirements of the Hunger Prevention Act.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should change food stamp regulations governing the QCR process to require states to attempt to complete reviews of participants who are under investigation for suspected fraud or have pending administrative fraud hearings.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA has contracted for a study designed to determine the key factors in the QCR process that would uncover actual or possible ineligibility. The requirements must also be considered for any future action on this matter.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should change food stamp regulations governing the QCR process to require states to include in the error rate any case in which the review of basic program eligibility requirements shows that the participant was ineligible for the program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA issued a memorandum to permit QCR to complete a review without an interview if the household refused to cooperate. A proposed regulation, which would require state QCR to attempt to complete such a review, has also been prepared. Completion of cases with other reasons for not holding an interview will be considered when the new QCR regulations are issued sometime in December 1992.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should change food stamp regulations governing the QCR process to eliminate the requirement that states drop cases in which personal interviews are not held, and add a requirement that states use collateral or case record data to review cases in which personal interviews are precluded because participants died, moved out of state, could not be located, did not cooperate, or were institutionalized participants. In the case of institutionalized participants, states should first contact the institution to determine whether the participant can be interviewed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: USDA plans no action on this recommendation because it considers food application already too complicated and believes complying with this issue would make it more complicated. USDA also believes that some states would not release general information about applicants unless the requested information was specific.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), to revise food stamp regulations to require states to obtain, at the time of application and recertification, authorization for release of information for possible use by quality control reviewers seeking to verify participants' eligibility for benefits.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA standardized its calculation procedures and increased headquarters reviews of regional calculation practices. USDA is also requiring regions to double check data input as data entry is completed, providing regions with detailed instructions on error rate calculations, and incorporating these instructions into the Federal Quality Control Handbook.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FNS, to annually review the error-rate calculations made for the states to ensure that official Food Stamp Program error rates are based on the appropriate statistical and mathematical procedures, and give regions the assistance needed to correct any mistakes found. Special attention should be given to the states with stratified quality control samples because most of the calculation mistakes GAO found were concentrated in these states.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

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