By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog
SPRINGFIELD — Since Illinois has seen an explosion in the number of people receiving food stamps, even a slight error costs taxpayers millions.
In this instance, a mistake rate of less than 2 percent means $50 million is misspent.
That’s the hard truth behind the press release lauding Illinois for having a 98.3 percent accuracy rate for its Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program.
Illinois’ error rate, from either overspending on food stamps or not spending enough, is 1.74 percent, according to Januari Smith, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Human Services.
Just more than 2 million people in the state, or 16 percent of the population, are enrolled in the federally managed SNAP. Washington D.C,. sent Illinois $3 billion for SNAP last year.
The numbers: 1.74 percent of $3 billion is $52 million. That’s a lot of taxpayer waste.
“The more people you add and the bigger the program gets, the more cumbersome it gets. The more difficult it gets to manage. And you have money being given away that shouldn’t be given away,” said Ted Dabrowski, vice President of policy for the Illinois Policy Institute.
Dabrowksi said Illinois saw its food stamp population jump 11.5 percent last year.
Smith said the increase in the number of families receiving food stamps can be blamed on the economy, and admits the program is becoming difficult for the state’s bureaucracy to manage.
DHS had 1,870 case workers handling 1.75 million cases last December, compared to 2,000 workers handling about 1 million cases in 2006, Smith said.
The food stamp rolls have also seen a significant national rise. Since 2011, nearly 2 million more people have signed up for food stamps each year.
Figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that 47.6 million people Americans receive some type of food stamp assistance. The average payout per person is about $133 dollars a month. The average payout per family is about $275 dollars a month.
Dabrowksi said Illinois is the “middle of the pack” nationally in total recipients, but noted the state was second in the nation in food stamp growth last year.
“We had a growth of 11.5 percent of the number of people on food stamps,” Dabrowksi said. “Only Wyoming was worse.”
Dabrowksi said Illinois needs to add more jobs to get more people off food stamps.
By growing the economy, more people can get away from government programs and allow the state to help those who truly need help, he said.
Illinois is being awarded $4 million by the USDA as recognition of it 98 percent accuracy rate. Smith said she doesn’t know how Illinois will spend that money.
Reach Benjamin Yount at Ben@IllinoisWatchdog.org and find him on Twitter @BenYount.
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