Federal Agriculture officials are threatening to take away the money they give Nevada to manage the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — food stamps — for low-income families.
In order to keep that administrative allowance, the state is required to process applications for services in a timely manner.
According to a letter from U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service Regional Administrator Jesus Mendoza, Nevada isn’t meeting standards that require processing 95 percent of applications in the statutory 30-day and seven-day time periods.
“As indicated below, Nevada’s annual timeliness rate has been well below 95 percent for the last four years,” the letter says referring to a chart that shows the state’s rate hovering around 82 percent.
“The state’s sustained poor timeliness rate has created hardships for thousands of low-income households across the state and must be addressed,” the letter says.
Mendoza’s letter demands the state provide a “detailed corrective action plan” within 30 days of the receipt of the letter dated Wednesday.
“If FNS is not satisfied with Nevada’s corrective action plan, suspension or disallowance of administrative funds may occur as soon as 30 days after FNS reviews Nevada’s corrective action plan,” the letter says.
Mike Willden, the governor’s chief of staff and former head of Health and Human Services, said the state has been working with the USDA on the problem and doesn’t believe the state will lose money.
“We’ve been working with USDA’s people for a couple of weeks on correction action,” he said. “There are only about 750 to 800 delinquent cases.”
He said he’s confident the corrective action plan will meet the requirements.
Willden said the program has been processing applications for food stamps but that, with the economic recession, the total number of people in the program has doubled over the past three years. There were about 175,000 recipients. Now there are 390,000.
He said the state currently pays out about $50 million a month to those people.
“We’ve been processing applications, just not as timely as we want,” Willden said. “But we’ve enrolled a lot more families in SNAP.”
To satisfy the feds, the state must raise its percentage to 85 after six months and achieve 95 percent by the Sept. 15 of 2015.
But Mendoza said it’s been well below 95 percent the past four years — 87 percent in fiscal year 2009, 81 percent in 2010 and 2011 and 82 percent in 2012.
Mendoza recognized the state has made efforts to improve agency performance including modernization of automation, business processes and funding for several hundred new eligibility worker positions.
“However, timely access to food assistance benefits for eligible low-income Nevadans should not be contingent upon completion of modernization initiatives,” it says. “With the exception of the additional staffing many of these efforts have been in progress for the last two to four years.”
Willden said he believes that percentage is already at about 88 and with a full year to work on the problem, will easily reach the 95 percent mark by next September.