Three Things to Know about Utah's Food Stamp Program
Workforce Services and staff with the Utah State Auditor recently took a deeper look at how the state works to prevent food stamp fraud, waste, and abuse. As part of our ongoing mission of continuous improvement for all of our programs, we collaborated on a recently released audit that identified some new tactics worth considering. Auditors provided some helpful recommendations to enhance our current data analytics, which we’ll be working on in the coming months.
But first, we think it’s worth providing an overview of what exactly takes place to ensure taxpayer dollars in the food stamp program are administered accurately and efficiently. So here are the three things to know about Utah’s food stamp program:
1. The best way to prevent food stamp fraud is to ensure only eligible people are approved (and Utah is quite good at this)
Before anyone is approved to receive food stamps, our eligibility workers run more than twenty real-time electronic interfaces that verify identity, verify citizenship, check multiple sources of income, and look at any assets. We’ve found that preventing ineligible people from ever receiving food stamps is the most effective way to prevent fraud, waste, or abuse. According to federal measures, Utah has a 97% accuracy rate when it comes to determining food stamp eligibility. In short, the vast majority of Utahns receiving food stamps are eligible for the temporary benefit.
2. Investigators combine analytics and referrals to rigorously track indicators of any food stamp misuse
Eligibility specialists in our department, taxpayers, or even employees from other state divisions or agencies can all provide referrals to our investigations unit. These referrals are considered high priority and investigators follow up quickly. Combined with the regular alert reports sent to investigators about unusual activity among food stamp recipients, the current set of tools available to investigators has helped Utah be successful in preventing misuse. The graphic above helps explain what we’re currently doing. We are fortunate that food stamp misuse is not a widespread problem in Utah, but even so we are always looking for ways to improve our methods. Which brings us to the third point.
3. We are incorporating the helpful findings in the audit to hone our methods
We have already begun the process of evaluating each of the auditors’ recommendations to determine how our current use of data analytics can be enhanced. We are working closely with our Investigations Unit to determine the right balance of prioritizing data analytics and referrals from other sources, and we are confident any improvements will help us be even more effective at preventing food stamp misuse.
The bottom line is this: we’re fortunate to have a well-functioning, efficient, and effective food stamp program here in Utah. It helps struggling Utahns stabilize their financial situation while they look for work again and get back on their feet. We are always looking for ways to improve this program, and we’re grateful to the state auditor’s office for helping us do that.
We’ve already been looking at each recommendation from the auditors, and we’ll continue exploring ways to enhance our current analytics in the coming year.