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SC struggles with food stamp errors

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COLUMBIA --- In Aiken County, 220 additional families received food stamps in June, when the number of needy households jumped to 12,147.

Whether all of the state's recipients were truly eligible or received the right amount of public assistance, however, is a question vexing the South Carolina Department of Social Services.

A report issued this month by the department warned that DSS is faltering in that area.

"The agency is currently having difficulty meeting the federal requirements for processing cases accurately," states the report, which outlines the challenges facing the agency's various public-assistance and welfare programs in the coming year. "South Carolina is facing federal penalties for the amount of processing errors that are occurring, after leading the country for many years."

Last year, South Carolina had a food-stamp error rate, which averages underpayments and overpayments, of 4.56 percent, slightly above the national payment error rate of 4.36, according to federal data. Last year's national accuracy rate of 95.64 percent was the highest in the program's history, according to the federal agency. Overpayments favor fuller bellies. In South Carolina, the overpayment error rate last year was 3.96 percent.

The federal food stamp program, now renamed Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, serves about 40 million low-income people each month, providing a monthly benefit of about $227 per household in 2008.

Food stamp statistics

Food stamp recipients cut across ages and ethnic groups:

- 43 percent are white; 33 percent are black; 19 percent are Hispanic; 2 percent are Asian; 2 percent are American Indians

- The average gross monthly income for a participating household is $673.

- 49 percent are minors, and 61 percent of them live in single-parent households.

Source: USDA Food and Nutrition Service


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