Thursday, February 17, 2005

Food stamp high performance bonus reform

USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) last week published its final rule for high performance bonuses in the Food Stamp Program. These bonuses reward states for achievements in administering the nation's most important anti-hunger program. For years, advocates have worried that the older system of bonuses and penalties, which emphasized payment accuracy to the exclusion of other issues, provided a perverse incentive for states to make the program unfriendly to working families. Working families tend to have fluctuating incomes, compared with families who rely only on welfare or social security income, so states were more likely to register "errors" in determining benefit amounts for working families. Under the new rules, half the bonus pool ($24 million) is awarded on the basis of payment accuracy, while the other half (another $24 million) is awarded for client-friendly achievements such as raising the "program access index," which is a new measure of how close the program comes to reaching all low-income people in each state. For the best earlier information on this issue, see the Center on Budget's website section on food assistance.

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