The SNAP (food stamp) overpayment rate — the share of benefit dollars issued to ineligible households or eligible households in excessive amounts — fell for the seventh straight year in 2013 to 2.61 percent, our new report explains. That’s the lowest on record. Less than 1 percent of SNAP benefits go to ineligible households.
The underpayment rate fell to 0.6 percent in 2013, also a record (see graph). The combined payment error rate — the sum of the overpayment and underpayment rates — fell to 3.2 percent.
As our preview of these new Agriculture Department figures explained, some critics present the combined error rate as a measure of excessive federal SNAP spending due to errors. That’s incorrect: the combined error rate includes both overpayments and underpayments. If you subtract underpayments from overpayments, the government’s net loss from errors was about 2 percent of benefits last year.
SNAP has long had one of the most rigorous systems of any public benefit program to ensure payment accuracy, and the steady improvement in SNAP payment accuracy reflects actions by both the federal government and the states (which administer SNAP) to simplify program administration and improve efficiency. Federal SNAP rules, revised in 2002, penalize states with persistently high error rates while rewarding states that make SNAP more accessible to eligible families. The system has produced solid benefits: even as SNAP achieved record-low error rates, SNAP participation among eligible people rose.