When Hurricane Irene slammed into the coast of New Jersey in August 2011, it left many parts of the state a disaster with a tally of over two million homes without power, and subject to widespread flooding/wind damage.  In an effort to assist the individuals residing in hard hit neighborhoods, the state implemented its Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or DSNAP.  While this disaster program has been around for nearly 40 years, this was New Jersey’s first stab at implementing the widespread assistance, which unfortunately resulted in inaccuracy and fraud.

County social services agencies worked to manage the influx of new recipients on top of those regularly receiving benefits.  It was calculated that the average award per household already receiving benefits was $171.  The average award per household not receiving benefits was $559. (Something sounds a bit off there.)   As the widespread assistance was distributed, officials saw applications from various parts of the state that were not as affected by the storm.  In a test, 281 homes were chosen at random, revealing that 51 of those homes (about 18%) where ineligible to receive the benefits.  They are now being asked to repay them.  (What if we had the numbers for all homes that received benefits from the storm?)

The state is making changes for the next time the DSNAP program is needed, enacting rules such as the provision of extra training for implementation.  That’s a great step in the right direction.  In addition, they could begin leveraging public records and data analytics technology to identify fraud.  Doing so will help to verify and authenticate the claimant’s identity and eligibility for the program.

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