Besides dysfunction in child protective services, Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration has left another negative legacy in the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services – high error rates in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program that cost both federal and state taxpayers.
Heads rolled in DCFS when shockingly lax casework endangering children was uncovered. The condition persisted for years under Edwards’ purview, and fortunately now appears to be on the mend.
But another casualty from neglect there deals with food stamps. Both major error rates in benefits distribution soared during his second term, indicating both the federal government particularly upon Democrat Pres. Joe Biden entering the White House turning a blind eye towards fraudulent, whether intended, successful applications and Edwards’ indifference in preventing waste of the federal dollars which entirely comprise the payouts.
Upon the behest of the Legislature, the Legislative Auditor surveyed both the active case error rate, or cases where inaccurate payouts occurred because of false attestations, whether intended, by applicants, and the negative case error rate, or cases where benefits were denied because of inattentiveness of recipients or applicants or mistakes made by DCFS staff. The active rate, around the national average in 2018, soared from 4.4 percent to 44.9 percent federal fiscal year 2022, while the negative rate almost doubled from 33.2 percent in 2018 to 59.8 percent in 2022.
All told, negative cases outnumbered active cases by about four-to-one, although more often active errors came from clients while for negative errors DCFS and clients shared blame. Among active cases, almost two-thirds occurred because of income under-reporting, and while among negative cases about three-sevenths came from applicants’ failure to understand notices that solicited time-sensitive information, about a third came from DCFS failure to process and verify applications accurately.
The negative rate began moving sharply upward in 2019 and fell, dramatically, only in periods where because of suspension of redeterminations (meaning no chance for DCFS to make errors) first because of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic then because of Disaster SNAP payments that lasted for months from hurricane disasters. This absence of review not only potentially allowed recipients ineligible to qualify to continue to receive benefits during periods of non-review but also created extra administrative costs to investigate and restore benefits to those who did qualify, who otherwise missed receiving benefits, during periods of review.
As for the active errors, by 2022 8.8 percent of cases had significant over- or under-payments. The remaining 36.1 percent in error either had smaller such errors or made payments to otherwise ineligible individuals.
These kinds of mistakes cost federal taxpayers, and Edwards’ laxness betrayed a fiduciary responsibility to use efficiently taxpayer dollars regardless of what level of government received these. Indeed, even as the pandemic took hold and disasters hit, Edwards asked for hardly any more resources for the Division of Family Support, which oversees disbursement of funds for several programs including food stamps, or increased staffing from 2019-22. At the end of 2019 that agency had 1,888 employees with a budget of $335 million, while at the end of 2022 it had increased just to 1,918 spending $365 million.
State taxpayers bore the brunt of this failure to staff and monitor accurately for the “churn” caused by negative errors that creates more administrative costs to clean up mistakes that needn’t have happened and would have been many fewer according to past data if only sufficient resources had been allocated to that task in the first place. But Edwards consistently has been interested more in how much money he can shove out the door and how high he can boost the proportion of the population receiving a government check than in whether it’s done accurately or efficiently.
Hopefully this changes with the next governor. However, the damage has been done adding yet another black stain to the many marking Edwards’ time in office.