When people commit fraud against a program like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), they are literally taking food out of peoples’ mouths. Sadly, there are weaknesses in state SNAP systems that allow fraud to occur. The use of data and analytics, including data matching, can cut down on fraud and allow states to help those who really need help. This is what the Missouri State Auditor found in 2018. We all agree with the Auditor’s office when it said that “reducing improper payments, including those that are the result of fraud, is critical to safeguarding funds and helping to achieve potential cost savings.”
How much does SNAP fraud cost Missouri, in 2018, the Missouri State Auditor issued a report noting that, “recipients spent more than $16 million using their EBT cards exclusively outside the state for 90 days or longer.” The report added that the “Department of Social Services (DSS) needs to strengthen efforts for managing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) related data. Without complete and accurate data, it is more difficult to use data analytics to detect trends or transaction patterns indicative of potential SNAP abuse or misuse.”
The report also found 3,668 cases where a recipient’s SNAP benefits were used 30 or more days after the recipient’s death was reported to the state, and the report noted that an additional 2,358 SNAP cases were being paid to people who were incarcerated.
So how can Missouri reduce fraud and direct help to people in need? Through analytics and data matching.
Analytics. The Auditor recommended that the state use “[a]dvanced analytics…for examining large amounts of data to uncover subtle or hidden patterns, correlations, and other insights, such as anomalies, trends, or potential abuse. The use of analytic results to improve actions or decisions is being transformed – improving decisions or actions and thereby extracting new economic and societal benefits.”
Data matching. The Auditor wrote that “[t]he DSS needs to more effectively utilize data matches to identify potentially improper benefits issued to recipients. Due to weaknesses in data match procedures, households involving recipients who had died or were incarcerated continued to receive and spend SNAP benefits. Without effective controls to detect benefits issued to deceased or incarcerated recipients, the DSS is at increased risk of allowing ineligible persons to receive benefits resulting in abuse and misuse of the SNAP.”
Source: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Data Analytics Program, Office of Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway, CPA, No. 2018-032, June 2018.
Eric J. Ellman is Senior Vice President for Public Policy and Legal Affairs at the Consumer Data Industry Association (CDIA) in Washington, DC. He also served for eight months as Interim President and CEO of the Association. More