OKLAHOMA CITY -- More Oklahomans relied on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly “food stamps”) benefits last year than ever before, according to statistics from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS). Currently an average of 620,000 Oklahomans receive SNAP each month, and 30 percent of all children are fed through the program. As a result, OKDHS is committed to maintaining the integrity of SNAP and recently hosted a summit in Oklahoma City with officials from the USDA’s Southwest Region.
“Our goal with this summit was to specifically address the fraud prevention measures we have in place in Oklahoma,” said Kathie Wright, Programs Manager for OKDHS’ SNAP. “SNAP fraud typically amounts to less than one percent of our national budget, or $750 million dollars per year. That’s significant and if recouped, would be enough to feed more eligible households.”
In recent years the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has moved fraud to the top of the list of areas to watch and is doubling efforts to address fraud. According to Wright, that is why the recent Oklahoma Summit was so important.
“Each state is graded on its performance and ability to make accurate decisions on eligibility and deliver accurate and timely benefits,” Wright said. “Even though Oklahoma has seen the largest number of households ever in the past few months, our OKDHS staff has done this with a less than four percent error rate. That is an incredible achievement.
“One way OKDHS attempts to cut down on fraud is by being proactive and communicating with applicants regarding the need to give our staff accurate and truthful information when applying for SNAP benefits. We require them to watch and participate in a “Rights and Responsibilities” CD-ROM and talk to our staff about any questions or concerns they may have. What we have found is that the majority of our clients do not intentionally come in to defraud us, but problems arise if they do not fully understand the program,” Wright said.
Several topics were addressed at the summit, including ways to reduce fraud, combating abuse, pursuing recipient fraud and pursuing retailer fraud.
“There are about 28,000 authorized SNAP retailers in the southwest region,” said Ron Gwinn, Regional Field Operations Director for the USDA-FNS. “Out of those 28,000, nearly 11 percent are in Oklahoma. We have a great collaborative effort with Oklahoma’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), and they are doing a great job. Our work on a national level is to do more on the front end and become more proactive with investigations, as well as monitoring stores for compliance,” Gwinn added.
Statistics show a record number of individuals and families are relying on SNAP. According to Wright, that’s why it’s so important to cut down on those who might try to abuse the system.
“Our OIG’s office is working diligently to ensure those who deliberately set out to defraud the system are brought to justice. All of our OIG agents are law enforcement officers, and we have one of the best fraud detection units in the nation.
“We also plan to continue our dialogue with our regional and national directors to make sure we are providing the best possible service to our customers who rely on us for help. If it means more of these summits that is what we will do,” Wright said.