Thursday, January 16, 2014

SNAP in NC wasn't broken before

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) under Governor Pat McCrory and Secretary Aldona Wos has fouled up one task after another. As I've been discussing in the last few posts, the department's problems with its NC FAST have delayed food assistance for tens of thousands of disadvantaged households, creating a different kind of NC FAST.

A constant refrain from Gov. McCrory and Sec. Wos throughout these debacles has been that they inherited a "broken agency." Records from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, however, reveal a different story and show that the previous administration managed its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp Program) caseload competently.

Each year, the USDA measures state agencies' effectiveness in administering the SNAP in three ways:
  • Payment accuracy, which is determined by quality control checks of the percentages of over-payment errors and underpayment errors;
  • Application processing timeliness, which is determined by quality control checks of the percentage of SNAP applications that were resolved within statutory limits of 30 days for regular cases and 7 days for expedited cases, and
  • Program access, which is measured as the ratio of SNAP participants to people with incomes below 125 percent of the poverty line (it approximates the proportion of people who are eligible for SNAP on the basis of their gross incomes who actually get benefits).

Under former Gov. Perdue, the DHHS performed well under all of these categories.

In fiscal year (FY) 2012, NC had an overall payment error rate of 2.32 percent, which was substantially below the national rate of 3.42 percent. The state's error rate was falling from 2.65 percent in FY 2011 and 2.70 percent in FY 2010--percentages that were also lower than the national averages for those years.
NC's application timeliness was near the middle of the 50 states, DC, and two territories that process SNAP applications. In FY 2012, 87.62 percent of applications were timely (NC ranked 29th among 53 agencies); in FY 2011, 87.00 percent of applications were timely (NC ranked 31st), and in FY 2010, 88.34 percent of applications were timely (NC ranked 26th).

When program access was last measured in 2011, NC's measure was slightly better than the national average, but its rank among states, DC, and the territories was 33rd. NC's program access steadily improved over the Perdue administration.

Overall, the figures put Gov. Perdue's DHHS near the middle of the pack. 

One can argue that the DHHS had ample room for improvement. For example, a few stand-out states had error rates below one percent and timeliness rates above 99 percent.

However, the DHHS was far from a basket case. More importantly, the agency operated much better than it has under Gov. McCrory and Sec. Wos and didn't risk losing its federal administrative funding.

Rather than squandering scarce taxpayer dollars on under-qualified and over-paid spokespeople to bad mouth the previous administration, Gov. McCrory and Sec. Wos might consider hiring a few of Gov. Perdue's staff to show them how to run the SNAP competently.