JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri State Auditors said their office has asked questions about the multi-million dollar payments received by the state based off inflated food stamp numbers. Now they are waiting for answers before determining their next step, spokeswoman Allison Bruns said.
Late in the afternoon Monday, the U.S. Agriculture Department received word from the Missouri Social Services Department, that they had been incorrectly reporting the number of Missourians on food stamps since September 2002.
An official with the Agriculture Department, Hans Billger, said they are reviewing the information provided to them by Missouri.
In the seven year span since the computer glitch began, there have more than 260,000 people reported receiving food stamps who actually are not. For example, in September of this year, the department announced they had over 1 million people on food stamps, when in all actuality there were only 855,000.
David Sater, R-Cassville, who is the chair of the Appropriations Committee on Social Services called the glitch a "kind of a wake up call," for departments to analyze and audit themselves.
Overall, he said it was a minor glitch, and the problem has already been "taken care of."
Social Services Department spokesman Scott Rowson said initially the glitch was overlooked because the numbers were relatively small. According to him, people who were no longer on food stamps did not receive them, but were still counted as part of the system. Eventually, the number became very large and after a data inquiry last week the discrepancy was discovered.
Most importantly, Rowson said, was that the inactives counted as receiving food stamps were not actually receiving any of the benefits.
He said a "fix" has already been put into place and his office is generating participation reports.
One problem that has arisen from the inflated numbers deals with bonuses received from the federal government for having served so many people with food stamps.
Since 2003, Missouri has received over $14 million in bonuses with $2.6 million received this year alone.
Whether Missouri will be liable for punitive or repertory damages "remains to be seen," Rowson said.
He said payments will depend on what the Agriculture Department rules on the matter.
Sater said he doesn't know whether the audit into food stamps will extend to any other federally funded program. He said Missouri should "analyze every program very diligently for accuracy."
Rowson said he does not think any other program is in jeopardy because he is "pretty confident this was a one time error."