A shortage of staff is threatening to increase the number of errors made in determining who is — and is not — eligible for welfare benefits, state Auditor General Debbie Davenport said Tuesday.
Davenport said the state Department of Economic Security has done a good job of reducing its food stamp error rate, which exceeded 15 percent in 1994, to just 5.27 percent in 2002. But in a report to the Legislature, she cautioned that increased caseloads and reduced budgets are likely to change that trend.
She said that is important because the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the food stamp program, financially penalizes states with high error rates. Davenport noted that California faced more than $62 million in fines for its high 2002 error rate.
Conversely, low error rates benefit the state, with Arizona getting a bonus of more than $3.8 million in 2002.
What causes concern to Davenport is that DES supervisors are not reviewing at least 35 case files per month despite an internal requirement to do just that. Davenport cited a report by the U.S. General Accounting Office which concluded that supervisor case file reviews "are one of the most effective ways to reduce error rates.’’
She said DES division managers told her staff that the error rate is being affected by more people seeking benefits even as there are fewer people to screen applications.
Davenport also noted that as of December DES has a backlog of more than 7,700 potential overpayments of either food stamps or welfare benefits that had not been verified and referred for collection. The dollar value of the claims could be close to $2 million, she said.
She said errors could be caused by a client who does not report a new source of income, agency errors in calculating benefits or outright fraud.