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Letter to USDA Secretary, Tom Vilsaka


Location: Washington DC

To protect taxpayer dollars from waste and abuse, U.S. Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) today called for a full accounting of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) change in definition of an error for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Roberts is concerned the change in error rates is forgiving errors at taxpayer expense and giving the Congress a false impression of the integrity of the $75 billion a year program.

"At a time when our economy is struggling and federal spending is out of control, the federal government needs to account for all spending, just as Americans do when making the family budget," Roberts said. "These errors, program-wide, could add up to be millions in wasted taxpayer dollars. I want a full accounting from the Department of Agriculture."

The following is text of a letter Sen. Roberts, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry sent to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack:

"I write concerning the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) error rate. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) temporarily increased the SNAP error rate threshold to $50.00 (up from $25.00) between April 2009 and September 2009. On November 1, 2011, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a direct final rule to permanently increase the SNAP error rate threshold to $50.00 (Federal Register Vol. 76, No. 211, page 67315). Accordingly, USDA estimated "that the ARRA's provision excluding any errors between $25.00 and $50.00 from the calculation decreased the 2009 combined Payment Error Rate (PER) by 15 percent."

"I am concerned the action taken on November 1, 2011, to redefine the SNAP error rate will not provide either the American taxpayer or Congress the information needed to accurately evaluate SNAP and the tax dollars expended by USDA in error. Therefore, I respectfully request answers to the following questions:

"What would the SNAP error rate have been for 2009 if the error rate had not been temporarily adjusted by ARRA? What is the monetary value of the difference between the error rate as asked and the 2009 reported PER? Did changing the threshold under ARRA result in any increase in taxpayer spending? If so, how much?

"Did the PER revert back to the pre-ARRA levels for the purpose of calculating the SNAP error rates for 2010 and 2011 after Congressional authority for the temporary ARRA threshold increase ended on September 30, 2009?

"How did changing the definition of a SNAP error affect the error rate after November 1, 2011? Was Congress consulted before changing the SNAP error definition?

"In this budget climate, it is absolutely critical that Congress consider and understand the full impact of all budgetary expenditures and program integrity evaluations for the SNAP program, including the size and scope of the SNAP error rate. I look forward to your response."

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