Food Stamp Automation Restrictions Must End

Archaic rules prevent states from adopting modern technology and business approaches that would cut costs, but not services, in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Pam Walker, Contributor

November 4, 2013

3 Min Read

As House and Senate conferees begin discussions on the latest farm bill, HR 2642, the conversation is centering around how to find greater savings, but in ways that lead to an agreement between two very different perspectives. And the biggest point of contention is between proposals to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps.

The Senate is proposing a $4 billion cut and the House is proposing a $39 billion cut. While there is no magic fix to bridge that wide of a difference, there is a proposal on the table that would deliver cost savings that wouldn't cut services, but would help the program operate more efficiently using technology.

Food stamps have been around in this country since the 1930s, and not much has changed in the way the program is delivered to Americans. The system is paper-based, and innovations that automate or facilitate the application process, eligibility determination and benefits management are discouraged. In some cases, innovation is even prohibited.

SNAP is the largest and most complex program providing health and human services outside of Medicaid. SNAP needs more flexibility now to take advantage of the newest technologies and labor-saving techniques to address the increase in SNAP applicants and the intense pressures on state and federal budgets to find efficiencies.

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What is being proposed would remove a restriction that prevents states from using new and more efficient and effective delivery models for the SNAP program. Currently, despite widespread evidence that public/private partnerships have shown worth, the Food and Nutrition Service restricts states from contracting for business process services that would provide improvements in the system -- improvements that would bring efficiencies to the delivery of services and the accuracy of payments, while providing a better experience for constituents and savings for taxpayers.

State and local program agencies should be able to contract for the broad array of services necessary for SNAP administration, beginning with application and intake through to benefit delivery, using a mix of public, private or nonprofit organizations and personnel that best matches their individual administrative structures and participant demographics. Experience shows that these options can deliver timely and accurate service when properly managed as part of a comprehensive, integrated, cross-program approach that is accountable for outcomes rather than procedural requirements.

TechAmerica believes permitting nonprofit organizations and for-profit contractors, or a mix of public and private entities, to assist in the administration of SNAP is supported by extensive evidence that proves states benefit from working with contractors to administer benefits for needy families. Not providing this flexibility would lead to increased costs, reduced benefits, or both, and that's not good for beneficiaries, constituents or taxpayers.

With such grand decisions on the table, one to remove an outdated barrier to better access to the SNAP program, improve payment accuracy and deliver cost savings should be a no brainer.

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