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Public Health working to fight federal fine

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 by Jolene Toves

Guam - The Department of Public Health is working to avoid a second sanction handed down by the US Department of Agriculture related to how it administers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (more commonly referred to as "the food stamp program").

Public Health is aggressively working to show the feds USDA's Food and Nutrition Services that it is improving quality control measures in the SNAP program, which it administers. "I have already signed an agreement with FNS that we will have an improvement plan okay so we will invest half of that into starting to make improvements - the problem is we have to rise up to the national standard which is a little difficult to do but if we are able to do that then we won't have to pay any of this," said director James Gillan.

If they do not show improvement by the end of this year then the department will face another fine for an excessive payment error rate. "Then if they see from the next audit that we've improved but the problem is we have to raise up to the national standard which is a little bit difficult to do, but if we are able to do that then we won't have to pay for any of this," he continued.

According to a letter received from the USDA, Public Health's SNAP program has overpayed and underpayed participants for a second consecutive year and while the department must pay for their errors in FY12 totaling over $75,000 Gillan says they may be able to avoid forking out money for errors in FY13. "So in this one if we are going to be paying something back It'll be half because we'll be allowed to invest  either the feds half or however we determine it into improvements," he said.

The letter which is a sanction suspends administrative funding to the department due to serious and long standing problems with the SNAP administration. Gillan attributes the errors to short staff, not enough time to process applicants and the high volume of applicants. So how does the department intend to increase proficiency and decrease payment error rates?

He explained, "The waivers to papers faster getting the governor to assist us in getting more staff the document imaging is going to help a lot in terms of pieces of paper getting lost increasing the interview time face to face interview time to twice what it is now should help take care of some of the errors."

Gillan says a management team from FNS did visit last month and reviewed Public Health's processes and made recommendations part of which were the waivers that will allow for phone interviews to be conducted, as well as setting a ten day limit for document submission. He says these measures should show the necessary improvements required by FNS. 
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