PUBLISHED: 10:36 AM on Wednesday, July 6, 2005
Alaska Food Stamp Efforts Produce Success
ANCHORAGE - U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Under Secretary Eric Bost recognized Alaska's Food Stamp program as one of the three most improved in the nation today during an event held at the Food Bank of Alaska. Bost awarded the Alaska Dept. of Health and Social Services (DHSS) $205,389 for its successful effort to improve payment accuracy. "This achievement is a result of decisive action and hard work. It is satisfying to receive national recognition for our efforts," said DHSS Commissioner Joel Gilbertson.

In turn, Gilbertson presented a grant award of $20,000 to the Food Bank of Alaska to provide fresh Alaska produce for Kids Café's summer breakfast and lunch programs as well as other child food programs in Alaska. "Because of our accomplishment, we are in the fortunate situation of passing some of this award onto Food Bank of Alaska to help feed some of Alaska's hungry children. At the same time we are giving a boost to Alaska's economy by purchasing produce from farmers here in Alaska." said Gilbertson. "In this case, 'better government' is not just a slogan, it will feed kids and help promote healthy Alaskans."

The Food Bank of Alaska works in collaboration with the Kid's Café to provide nutritious meals to children who are no longer receiving school lunch or breakfast during the summer. Kids Café serves 2,000 meals each week to children through eight summer food service sites in Anchorage. Food Bank of Alaska is on track to distribute nearly 5 million pounds of food this year to food pantries, soup kitchens, emergency programs and adult/child daycare programs through its network of more than 300 agencies across the state.

During its first year in office, the Murkowski administration discovered that Alaska had a persistent problem with food stamp payment accuracy dating back to 1997 _ as a result, Governor Frank H. Murkowski declared improvement in this program a top priority. This inspired Alaska's "Better than average" campaign to revitalize the program's accuracy rate. Alaska has since moved from having the highest error rate in the nation to being in a position of enjoying national recognition as one of the states with the most improved payment accuracy.

"It was an aggressive marketing and training campaign that included healthy competition between offices that revitalized people's interest in their jobs," said Deputy Commissioner Tony Lombardo, noting that Public Assistance staff referred to the campaign as the "Save Our Bacon" campaign. "It wasn't just the Food Stamp program. All of the Division of Public Assistance showed we cared about the job we do."

The Food Stamp Program requires precise measurement of work quality. A monthly audit of sampled cases determines if the correct benefit amount is issued to participating households. These findings are totaled into an annual payment error rate for each state, and contribute to the national error rate determination.

States that are over the national average payment error rate are subject to financial penalties. Alaska's persistent food stamp payment accuracy problem resulted in several years of financial penalties _ and the worst accuracy rate in the nation in Federal Fiscal Year 2003 (FFY03), which end September 2003. Since 1997, Alaska has paid penalties totaling nearly $1.75 million.

States are eligible to receive a performance bonus for improved work quality. Alaska's payment error rate was lowered from 13.9 percent in FFY 2003 to 6.7 percent this past year, on par with the FFY03 national average of 6.64 percent. Alaska was among three states with the most improved payment error rate for FFY 2004.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) funds 100 percent of Food Stamp Program benefits, and shares the cost of program administration with the states. The Alaska Food Stamp Program serves over 21,500 households per month, issuing over $6.7 million monthly in food assistance benefits to low-income Alaskans. The food benefits are issued by debit card and may be redeemed at authorized grocery stores for food items only.