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Covering state lawmakers, bills, and policy emerging from Jefferson City.

Auditor: Missouri’s SNAP Wasting Millions on Incarcerated, Out-of-State Recipients

Chloe O'Neill

State Auditor Nicole Galloway says Missouri appears to be wasting millions of dollars through misuse of its food assistance program.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, was formerly known as the Food Stamp Program. It helps low-income Missourians get food at grocery stores by using a state-funded electronic card.

But Galloway said in Springfield on Tuesday that her office found hundreds of thousands of transactions that raise red flags — and that the Department of Social Services, which administers the federal program, did “very little” to investigate the potential misuse and abuse of those funds.

“For instance, we had about $16 million of transactions for folks that were incarcerated, deceased, and used their card outside the state of Missouri — sometimes almost exclusively, for years,” Galloway said.

The yearlong audit looked at fiscal years 2015 and 2016; Galloway emphasized DSS was given proper time to address issues she identified throughout her audit, as they were notified 30 days ago, as well as adopt her recommendations, such as reviewing its use of contracted vendors to help administer the benefits.

DSS spokesperson Rebecca Woelfel told KCUR that so far in fiscal year 2018, the agency has deployed new investigative techniques and computer enhancements that Galloway recommended, as well as new internal data analytic tools to tackle some of the issues identified by the audit, like incomplete or invalid data.

Some of the transactions flagged in the audit were from out-of-state use of EBT cards issued in Missouri. Woelfel clarified that out-of-state transactions are not illegal and that “federal rules require benefits to be interoperable between states.” That said, Woelfel said DSS is working to better identify impermissible out-of-state uses.

There are some appropriate times for recipients to use their SNAP benefits out of state, Galloway said.

“However, when you have a recipient that is using the benefit for over 700 days out of state, that’s a pretty clear warning sign that that person is not a Missouri resident,” Galloway said.

The state auditor is up for reelection this year. Galloway is a Democrat, and won’t face a primary challenger—but she’ll run against candidates from the Republican, Libertarian, Green, and Constitution Parties in November.

KCUR’s Andrea Tudhope contributed to this report.