Ohio state administrators have provided thousands of dollars in food stamp benefits to residents who are dead and presumably not in need of nutritional assistance, according to an audit Tuesday.
The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) is the main agency tasked with operating the $2.5 billion state food stamp program. Ohio Auditor Dave Yost conducted a review of the program and found benefits have gone to people who have literally ceased to be. The state has provided $24,406 in benefits to 36 state residents who have been dead for over a year.
“There needs to be tighter controls over these dollars,” Yost said in a statement. “The death benefit comparison needs to be made quarterly to safeguard our money.”
The audit also found high instance of fraud, recipients with multiple accounts, unusually high transactions and unusual account imbalances. ODJFS Spokesman Jon Keeling countered the report by noting the dead recipients amount to a small percentage of everyone the program serves in the state.
“The questionable costs found by this audit constitute just 0.0012% of the total cost of the program,” Keeling stated. “It’s even less than the cost of the audit itself. Our agency takes its responsibilities very seriously and we fully and faithfully implement our programs under the rules set in place by the federal government.”
Yost did phrase the state for taking steps to help fix the problems within its food stamp program. The state launched a new program, for instance, which is designed to spot errors within the system early. It is currently operating in 10 counties with plans to expand operations throughout the year.
“We’ve taken strong steps to fight fraud and abuse, and we’ll continue using innovative solutions to protect taxpayer dollars,” Keeling stated. “One of our newest efforts made our state one of the first to utilize an advanced anti-fraud suite called the Xerox Intelligent Analytics Portal.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the main federal agency tasked with overseeing the national food stamp program. It works with state agencies to make sure benefits are properly distributed to qualified individuals and families. The USDA estimates the program has increased from 17 million participants in 2000 to nearly 47 million in 2014.
“Eleven other states have conducted similarly comprehensive audits, and their findings were similar,” Yost added. “This indicates structural weaknesses in the federal program,”
The improved economy has helped decrease the number of participants in recent years. The Congressional Budget Office found, since participation hit its peak in December, 2012, the number of people receiving benefits has declined by more than 1.5 million. States have also begun implementing work requirements which were waived in response to the last recession.
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