The government overpaid $11 billion in food stamps in 2022. That’s an enormous sum of money and Senator Ernst wants it back.
She’s behind the Snap Back Inaccurate SNAP Payments Act, a bill that could force low income Americans to pay back any extra SNAP benefits they received.
In this article, we’ll explore what that Act is, what it does, who is affected, and what you can do about it.
What is the Snap Back Act?
The Snap Back Inaccurate SNAP Payments Act is a bill proposed by Iowa’s Senator Joni Ernst. This proposal is actually very short. It is just three pages long!
This bill would amend the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 to accomplish the following:
- Reduce the reporting threshold for overpayments
- Force states to repay higher amounts for errors
- Directing states to get money back from people who got more than they were eligible for
Currently, states only have to report overpayments if they are valued at more than $54 per person. This bill would drop that limit to $0 per person, ensuring that any overpayment of any amount would be reported.
For the most part, the Snap Back Inaccurate SNAP Payments Act aims to accomplish these goals through very minor tweaks to the wording of the current law. For example, by swapping out the word “may” for the word “shall” in a specific clause, Senator Ernst aims to ensure that states are liable for their overpayment mistakes. She also swapped out “10 percent” for “25 percent” to increase the amount of money that would have to be repaid.
The biggest change proposed by this Act is the introduction of a new paragraph which simply states:
RECOUPMENT OF OVERPAYMENTS. — Each State agency shall seek to recoup any overpayments of benefits made to benefit recipients.S. 2923, 118th Congress 1st Session
That means that States will have to repay the federal government and then recoup their money by getting it from the people who were overpaid. That may not sound like a problem but the New York Post reported that nearly 80% of these overpayments are the result of government error. Many people who are being overpaid may not even know it’s happening until they are ordered to repay!
Why is this happening?
The Snap Back Inaccurate SNAP Payments Act is a direct response to three significant problems that the United States Government is facing right now. All of those problems center around one common theme: the government has budget problems.
Over $11.2 billion in ineligible payments were made in 2022, which means the government spent a lot of money on benefits that shouldn’t have been paid. That’s a lot of money and it’s understandable why the government would want it back.
It is estimated that the government still spends $1 billion per month on benefits that aren’t actually owed. Senator Ernst wants to stop those payments from being sent.
Unfortunately, it appears that nearly 80% of those overpayments are due to government errors. That means that the people who are receiving that money aren’t intentionally getting overpaid. Most of them aren’t even aware that it’s happening. Forcing those people to pay the money back will create a tremendous hardship for low income Americans who are already suffering.
Of course, it appears that Senator Ernst’s overall goal is to fix the overpayments from happening in the first place by ensuring accuracy in SNAP calculations. She points to the fact that seven states have manipulated their data in order to get more than $60 million in bonuses and rewards from the federal government that they weren’t really eligible for. That needs to stop.
By forcing the states to eat the cost of their overpayments, the Senator hopes to ensure that the federal government doesn’t spend more on SNAP than necessary. However, the legislation also directs the states to take that money back from people who already received it, which can make low income Americans struggle even harder than they already are.
Who would be affected?
Under the current draft of this proposal, any low income American who received more food stamps than they were eligible for may be subject to repayment. We really won’t know until/unless the Snap Back Act passes and states start sending letters to those who have been identified as overpaid.
If you are told that you need to repay the state, they should send you a letter with more information and instructions. You can usually appeal this decision or negotiate payment arrangements.
If you are still receiving benefits, then the state will usually withhold some (or all) of your future benefits to make up for the amount that you owe. This can be extremely painful, especially considering that recent data from the Census Bureau shows that half of SNAP households are already skipping meals due to inflation.
If you are no longer receiving benefits, you may be compelled to make payments. The state will contact if you if they find that you’ve been overpaid and they’ll give you instructions on how to set up a payment plan and make those payments. Many states have the option to pay online.
When will it take effect?
The Snap Back Inaccurate SNAP Payments Act was introduced to Congress on September 26, 2023. The Act was read twice and then referred to the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. You can track the latest action on this Act using the legislative search tools on the Congress website.
The Act is written in such a way that it would take effect in 2024 if it passes. However, at this time, it is not clear if or when the Act would become law.
It is important to stay apprised of bills like this because Congress needs to make decisions about the Farm Bill soon. The new Farm Bill was due in September but Congress extended it, pending the passage of new legislation.
Small proposals like the Snap Back Act are often “marker bills,” which end up being absorbed into larger bills like the Farm Bill. It’s important to take action now on the bills you support so that your lawmakers know which ones you’d like to have become law.
What can I do?
When a proposed piece of legislation is before Congress, you can reach out to your elected Congressional representatives to voice your opinion. You can do this for any issue but it’s especially effective when you’re talking about something Congress is currently considering.
There are several SNAP-related proposals before Congress right now, including the Keep Kupuna Fed Act which would provide more food benefits to seniors who rely on Social Security.
You can use the Congress.gov search tool to find your elected officials. Contact them via phone or email to voice your thoughts on these bills.
The Snap Back Inaccurate SNAP Payments Act would force low income Americans to repay SNAP overpayments, even if they didn’t know that they were being overpaid. It would make several changes to the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 that would save the federal government money, put more responsibility on the states, and compel repayments for any mistakes in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program calculation.