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County of Santa Clara Recognized for Exceptional Administration of CalFresh Program

U.S. Department of Agriculture and California Department of Social Services Present County with Accuracy Rate Award for Second Consecutive Year
 SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF.— For the second year in a row, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) presented the County of Santa Clara with an award recognizing the Social Services Agency’s exceptional administration of the CalFresh Program (formerly known as the Food Stamps Program). The award was presented at today’s Board of Supervisors meeting.
“Santa Clara County residents should be extremely proud of their Department of Employment and Benefit Services’ stewardship of the CalFresh program in Federal Fiscal Year 2011 as demonstrated by the County’s accuracy rate of 99.17 % in certifying applicant households to receive food benefits—better than any other state in the country.  This compares with an accuracy rate of 95.42% for the State of California and 96.20% for the nation,” said Dennis Stewart, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Division Director for the Food and Nutrition Services Western Region. “If the country as a whole had achieved the same high accuracy rate as Santa Clara County, there would have been a savings to the taxpayers in misissued benefits of more than $ 2.3 billion nationally. This is a tribute to the County’s compassion for feeding the needy while safeguarding Federal tax dollars.”
CalFresh seeks to improve the health of low-income individuals and families by supplementing their income with benefits to purchase food that is more nutritious. The Program known at the federal level as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) issues monthly electronic benefits that can be used to buy most foods at many markets and food stores.  Achieving a low error rate among counties is essential as it helps the State avoid millions in federal penalties. When the State’s error rate is above the national average, the State is sanctioned and the penalty could be shared by the county.
“This award acknowledges the County’s commitment to support residents often struggling to bring food to the table,” said County of Santa Clara Supervisor Dave Cortese, Chair of the Board’s Children, Seniors and Families Committee. “Receiving this recognition two years in a row is the result of working smart to provide the best service to individuals and families in need, and at the same time, save millions of taxpayer dollars.”
The accuracy rate that Santa Clara County achieved during the past three years continues to increase, from 97.03 percent in Federal Fiscal year 2008, 99.11 percent in 2009, 99.17 percent in 2010.  Santa Clara County’s accuracy rate in Federal Fiscal Year 2011 was 99.41 percent.
“The County is committed to ensure the right households are participating and receiving the correct amount of benefits they have applied for,” said County Executive Jeffrey V. Smith.  “I am pleased with the processes and procedures the Social Services Agency is implementing to safeguard the integrity of such a vital program.”
“Team effort and partnerships within the units and divisions responsible for the administration of the CalFresh Program continue to pay off,” said Santa Clara County Social Services Director Bruce Wagstaff. “I am inspired by the dedication and rigor of our staff. They are resilient when it comes to learning about eligibility regulations, reviewing cases and following up with clients to help maintain accuracy and to ensure this program is serving the right people.”  
Wagstaff added that the County’s Department of Employment and Benefit Services is also launching a Corrective Action Plan tailored for each district office to address specific issues, and ensuring collaborations within units to focus on clients with unreported income. 
About USDA’s Food Nutrition Assistance Programs
USDA’s Food and Nutrition services oversee the administration of 15 nutrition assistance programs that impact the lives of one in four Americans over the course of a year. 
The USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) puts healthy food on the table for more than 40 million people each month, half of whom are children. Formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, it seeks to raise nutrition levels of low-income households by ensuring access to a nutritious, healthful diet through nutrition assistance and nutrition education.  SNAP provides monthly allotments of benefits (coupons) redeemable for food at retail stores.
As demands increase because of the challenging economy, State agencies continue to collaborate with the USDA to enhance SNAP Integrity. Each state agency is responsible for monitoring and improving its administration with the SNAP quality control system to determine the accuracy of the eligibility decision and the benefits authorized. The national average level of program payment accuracy for Fiscal Year 2011 was 96.36 percent, the 8th consecutive year that it has achieved a historically high rate.
CalFresh benefits can be used to purchase foods for human consumption, as well as seeds and plants to grow food for household use. The amount of CalFresh benefits a low-income person or family can receive is based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Thrifty Food Plan. The plan estimates how much it costs to provide a household with nutritious, low-cost meals. The estimates are revised every year to keep pace with changes in food prices. The average amount of CalFresh benefits received per household is about $200 per month.
Media Contact: Gwendolyn Mitchell/Marina Hinestrosa, Office of Public Affairs (408) 299-5119; Dana McQuary, Social Services Agency (408) 408-755-7760.
Posted: December 4, 2012