Tips for Handling SNAP Benefit Overpayment
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For many Americans, financial hardship is a reality. With the help of federal and state agencies, low-income families are able to make ends meet. Recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are able to provide their households with food while working to improve their situations. However, clerical or applicant errors happen from time to time, and customers may receive SNAP overpayments. In overpayment incidents, it is crucial that the recipients realize the error as quickly as possible and report the error, but many may not know how. The team at Food-Stamps.org encourages SNAP beneficiaries to read the below to prepare for any instances of SNAP benefits overpayment.
Learn About SNAP
Understanding the SNAP system is an important step in combating SNAP overpayments. SNAP benefits, previously and commonly known as food stamps, are monetary payouts transferred onto a card that functions similarly to a debit card. The benefits are loaded onto the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card monthly on a predetermined schedule, and recipients use the card on eligible items from approved stores. SNAP applicants must meet a certain criteria to qualify for food assistance, and take into account assets, household income, disability status and any deductions including medical costs or child support. Monthly income tests and a calculated maximum household allotment determine the SNAP benefits a household receives. Most recipients of SNAP benefits must meet employment requirements to qualify and retain eligibility, such as taking jobs when available or participating in job search training, although certain groups may be exempt from such requirements. Beneficiaries are responsible for reporting instances of income change or household member fluctuations, so the team at Food-Stamps.org urges SNAP recipients to make a checklist of all agencies to notify when such household changes occur to avoid any payment issues.
Types of Errors
SNAP benefit overpayments are results of agency errors, unintentional applicant errors and intentional program exploitation. An agency or an administrative error means the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is responsible for the overpayment error, typically through the agency’s failure to report changes submitted by the household. A household may report incorrect information due to a misunderstanding or a mistake when submitting pertinent SNAP information, although some households intentionally misrepresent their household information or misuse their SNAP payments.
Regardless of the reason for overpayment, if the DHHS notices the error, the department will take steps to collect the payment. When the DHHS realizes the overpayment error, the department sends noticed to the household explaining the amounts, date(s) and the reason for overpayment. The SNAP recipient should pay special attention to the overpayment reason, so he or she can provide explanations for any recipient errors. The team at Food-Stamps.org strongly urges SNAP recipients to track all received payments regularly to report any overpayment errors as soon as they happen. SNAP recipients may check their EBT card balances through the telephone provided on the card or the state online portal, if available.
Learn About the Process of Appeals
Within 90 days of overpayment notice, households have a right to an appeal hearing. Customers may file appeals by submitting physical appeal request forms or verbally with a member of the DHHS, although the team at Food-Stamps.org strongly recommends submitting a paper application via mail or asking the DHHS office for a copy of the submitted appeal form. Customers should make sure to have the office sign off and verify the application submission. After submitting the appeal, customers should confirm the DHHS has scheduled a pre-hearing conference, typically within 10 days of appeal submission. At this conference, customers discuss and review their cases with caseworkers, and the issue may be resolved without a hearing.
If the appeal is not resolved and withdrawn at the pre-hearing conference, appellants (the customer making the appeal) should prepare for the hearing. The hearing is the time for appellants to provide proof if the overpayment was a correct payment, or to provide information that the appellant mistakenly did not report to the DHHS. If the appellant submits previously unreported information, the DHHS also reexamines the household’s SNAP eligibility. At this stage of appeal, the appellant attends the hearing at a local DHHS office and is directed by a hearing officer who is unattached to the appellant’s case. If the appellant disagrees with the outcome of the hearing and wishes to dispute it further, he or she may file a lawsuit with a circuit court within six months. The team at Food-Stamps.org strongly encourages appellants to document their proof thoroughly, confer with legal counsel or provide witnesses to best prepare for the appeal or lawsuit.
About Repayment and Repayment Exceptions
When SNAP benefit repayment is necessary and indisputable, SNAP recipients have the option of paying the entire claim at once or through a method sometimes identified as recoupment. Payments plans are another way customers may repay SNAP benefits, especially in the cases of an inactive SNAP recipient charged with overpayment. To return the overpaid amount, recoupment payments deduct a small amount of upcoming SNAP benefits until the recipient pays off the amount to the DHHS. Customers who intentionally misreport information to the DHHS are subject to higher recoupment than those who unintentionally violate SNAP reporting policies. Depending on which amount is greater, intentional violators must pay 20 percent of benefits or $20, whereas unintentional violators owe 10 percent of benefits or $10.
Customers must sign and return the payment agreement plan to the DHHS within 20 days of receipt. If customers neglect to return this completed and acknowledged payment plan, the plan will automatically reduce the SNAP benefits. If household situation changes, both the DHHS and the household may ask to adjust payment amounts. Additional repayment methods include collecting wages or withholding amounts on the federal tax return or other federal benefits, especially if the payments are delinquent.