SNAP benefit amounts are increasing. How can state agencies keep up?
Amid a time marked by elevated need and ongoing food insecurity across the nation, the 42 million Americans that receive food stamps have begun to see a permanent boost to their benefits. Starting October 2021, families and individuals enrolled in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) began receiving increased benefits under the revised Thrifty Food Plan announced by the USDA over the summer.
On average, food stamp recipients began receiving a 27 percent boost to their regular SNAP benefits, an increase of about $36 per month for individuals and a maximum of $835 per month for families of four, compared to a $680 maximum before. This is the largest increase in the history of SNAP. Even as pandemic-related increases have ended, SNAP participants will still notice an average boost of $12 to $16 per person per month, according to the USDA. Given the substantial increase, it is critical for state benefits agencies to ensure their eligibility verification processes are tight to help protect program integrity and facilitate proper benefit distribution to recipients in need. As SNAP benefit amounts increase, here’s how agencies can keep up.
Leverage access to reliable data
To be eligible for SNAP benefits, applicants must be able to meet certain requirements, including income limits. While the SNAP benefits application process includes income information requests of applicants, state benefits agencies still must check applicant-provided information to verify eligibility.
Most benefits administrators have access to public sector income data sources, such as the National Directory of New Hires, State Wage Data and IRS Data. However, data from each of these sources can be outdated. In fact, data from these sources can be three to six months old (and in some cases, possibly 15 months old) since State Wage Data, for example, is gathered monthly then released the following quarter. In other instances, benefits administrators may rely on applicant-provided paystubs to verify income, which leads to manual processes that leave room for delays. In addition, paystubs can be easily falsified, whether an individual purchases a fake paystub online or creates one at home.
Frequent job turnover or 1099/gig income sources also make it risky to rely on paystubs or outdated data to verify income, because that may lead to potentially incorrect eligibility decisions. This causes increased workload for agencies and sometimes even delayed payments for applicants. With the increase in benefit amounts, state agencies need current, actionable data to deliver SNAP benefits with greater confidence. Commercial verification sources, such as The Work Number database, can deliver near real-time verifications of income that are updated with every payroll cycle.
Maintain program integrity
By leveraging third-party data sources, state agencies not only ensure they are using the most current income data to verify eligibility at initial application for SNAP benefits, but also help maintain program integrity and realize efficiencies throughout the entire benefits lifecycle.
Benefits agencies are typically required to do yearly recertifications, including income verifications, to confirm that eligible individuals are getting the benefit they need. Rather than tracking down income information from applicants, then manually verifying that information through multiple data sources at each point of recertification, benefits agencies can speed up processes and realize efficiencies by using up-to-date, automated data sources. For example, in 2020, more than 3,000 state and local social service agencies used automated data from The Work Number to verify income, which helped improve their ability to quickly provide aid to qualifying individuals, while protecting program integrity.
By leveraging automated, real-time data sources, SNAP agencies can help speed up the verifications process at application and recertification, while also checking that applicant eligibility information is up to date.
Juan Cole is vice president, strategy and solutions consulting for Equifax Government Services. In this role, he works closely with government and industry partners to deploy data-driven solutions and trended data analysis that address the ever-changing challenges faced by government clients. He leads a service architect team that supports clients in CMS SSA, and state health care government agencies to implement solutions that help mitigate risk, prevent improper payments, facilitate verifications and improve program integrity.