The U.S. Department of Justice on Monday announced the Texas Health and Human Services Commission has agreed to pay $15.3 million to resolve allegations that it submitted false data about its administration of a food-assistance program and violated the False Claims Act.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program, or SNAP, is a federal program that provides eligible, low-income individuals and families with financial assistance to buy food. Although mostly funded by the federal government, SNAP eligibility is determined by states, which in turn are required to administer the benefits and perform quality control to make sure decisions about eligibility are correct.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees SNAP, requires that the states' quality-control processes ensure that benefits are correctly awarded, are free from bias and accurately report states' error rates in making eligibility decisions. The department provides performance bonuses to states that report the lowest and most improved error rates each year.
An investigation conducted by the Agriculture Department and several other federal agencies found Texas incorrectly received performance bonuses in 2010, 2013 and 2014 after it manipulated its error rate and submitted false data.
Starting in 2009, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission began working with a South Dakota-based consultant, Julie Osnes, to lower its SNAP quality control error rate, according to the Justice Department. Using Osnes' recommendations, the Justice Department alleged the state "injected bias" into its quality-control process, which resulted in false data.
Neither the state agency nor Osnes immediately responded to requests for comment. According to the state health commission, about 1.5 million Texans received food assistance in November and 3.38 million were eligible for benefits.
The investigation arose out of a nationwide audit of SNAP quality-control procedures by the USDA office of the inspector general. This is the fifth settlement in this matter, and fourth settlement with a state agency for manipulating its SNAP quality-control findings since 2017, the Department of Justice reports.