Mississippi's SNAP program is being investigated for possible fr - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Mississippi's SNAP program is being investigated for possible fraud

Source: Mississippi Watchdog Source: Mississippi Watchdog
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

Newly revealed documents show Mississippi has been under federal investigation for possible mismanagement of the SNAP Program. That's what most folks know as food stamps.

We've learned that it's the SNAP error rates that are the focus of this investigation. Those are not "fraud rates". They instead measure whether or not benefits provided to SNAP participants are accurate, not too high or too low. It includes errors caused by the state agencies and those by clients.

"SNAP is really one of the best and most efficient programs that the federal government has, said Mississippi Center for Justice Advocacy Director Beth Orlansky. "All of the benefits to pay for food comes from the federal government. It can be the difference between going hungry or not."

But this Civil Investigative Demand Letter discovered by Mississippi Watchdog indicates the feds are looking into whether Mississippi submitted fraudulent SNAP claim data.

The scope of the investigation is apparently even wider and became a focus during a September Senate hearing.

"Simply put, no one knows the error rate of SNAP and that is unacceptable," said Chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee Senator Pat Roberts. "And the federal government does not know the basic elements of the problem such as how long this has been occurring."

The demand letter references Julie Osnes Consulting. We found at least three contracts between the Mississippi Department of Human Services and the firm.

"The first problem I see here is this is a sole source contract," noted President of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy Dr. Jameson Taylor. "We are doing some important contract reforms here in Mississippi thanks to Senator John Polk and Representative Jerry Turner that passed some contract reforms last session to help eliminate corruption. And we see this is a symptom of that need to continue those reforms that these two lawmakers have started."

Osnes was billed as a consultant hired on to help DHS with SNAP quality control. But an online search reveals Julie Osnes contracted with multiple states that are now under investigation by the federal government. The allegation is that states relied on her advice that led to inaccurate reporting of food stamp error rates. Because of those numbers---states were getting bonus dollars from the USDA.

Some of the states that contracted with Osnes, including Alaska and Wisconsin, have already paid millions in fines for false food stamp claims.
We reached out to DHS for comment and to see if Mississippi has repaid any money but haven't received a response.

The attorney representing Julie Osnes sent the following statement.

"Julie Osnes is a long-standing expert in the area of state compliance with federal food stamp quality control efforts," said Michael Sullivan. "She is confident that the facts will show that she was invited to help Mississippi to evaluate its quality control efforts in providing food stamps to needy families.  The federal rules and regulations in the SNAP program are notoriously complicated and confusing, a point made clear in recent public hearings.  States like Mississippi have struggled to understand and comply with the regulations.    Julie is proud of her work in bringing some uniformity and predictability to this area.   She is prepared to work with Mississippi officials, and those of other states, to assure that this investigation comes to the right conclusion, and she is confident that it will."

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