Hurricane Katrina obliterated coastal towns, took hundreds of lives, and displaced more than 400,0001 people throughout Southern Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. For example, in Mississippi alone, more than one million individuals were impacted by the storm with more than one in six citizens seeking assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
But long after short-term assistance ended and the FEMA trucks left, the massive diaspora of people from around the Gulf Coast continues to affect health and human service (HHS) programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Disaster-SNAP (D-SNAP).
Unfortunately, it is inevitable that government assistance fraud will follow natural disasters. Moreover, the post-storm chaos and displacement from Katrina provided perfect conditions for some bad actors to cross state lines to enroll in multiple SNAP and D-SNAP programs.
Both taxpayers and disadvantaged needy state residents who rely on the aid suffer the most when fraud and false claims drain the system. In Mississippi, residents are in favor of helping struggling families put much needed food on the table, but they also want to be assured that their taxpayer dollars are spent efficiently and only going to those who are truly in need. That is why the Mississippi joined forces with four neighboring states who were also profoundly affected by Katrina--Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana--to create the National Accuracy Clearinghouse (NAC), a multistate data exchange designed to assist states with the challenge of identifying and preventing the duplicate issuance of benefits to recipients and to eliminate improper payments within SNAP and D-SNAP. Dual or duplicate participation occurs when a person, inadvertently or intentionally, applies in more than one state during the same calendar month for government benefits.
The NAC's success has been remarkable. Since the pilot launch in 2014, the states of Mississippi and Alabama both realized an 80 percent decrease in dual participation for the 12-month pilot period. The NAC's preventive cost savings for all five states was $5.6 million. That is just five states for one program. Just imagine the impact if the NAC model were adopted nationwide not only for SNAP, but for Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and other HHS programs.
"The success of NAC to date has been overwhelming, and when implemented nationwide is estimated to save millions," said Joel Saveli, former state NAC coordinator at the Mississippi Department of Human Services.
HDW THE NAC WORKS
The NAC is a state-to-state datasharing program addressing SNAP and D-SNAP improper payments. It was designed to reduce dual participation and ensure that food resources only go to truly underprivileged beneficiaries, made up largely of children and elderly and disabled individuals, as well as those who need food assistance following a disaster or lost income.
The consortium of states initially set up the "Buddy State Exchange" system, allowing each state to compare data with certain other states, selectively. After...