The federal government is fining Iowa’s Department of Human Services around $200,000 for miscalculating “Food Assistance Program” benefits at a rate higher than the national average. The state figured wrong on nearly six-and-a-half percent of the benefits which are handed out in the form of an electronic card.
The national average error rate for the program that used to be known as “food stamps” was just over four percent. D-H-S spokesman, Roger Munns, blames the high rate of mistakes in part on the state’s budget crunch, and the resulting layoffs in the department.
“The caseloads now for people who do this work is now well over 500,” Munns says, “It used to be in the 350 range. So you can see there’s been a lot of stress on our frontline workers.” Most of the errors resulted in overpayments, but about a fifth of them were underpayments.
Munns says improvement has already been made in the error rate with better training for field workers. “And now in the first four months of the federal fiscal year our error rate is down below three percent and in the most recent month for which we have figures the error rate was one percent,” Munns says.
Munns estimates about 330,000 Iowans receive help from the food assistance program. Iowa is one of four states facing financial penalties from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for poor performance in the program during the federal fiscal year ending last September 30th.