Mississippi is the latest state to settle False Claims Act allegations over its use of a discredited contractor to perform SNAP quality control

by Ben Vernia | June 4th, 2020

On June 2, the Department of Justice announced that the state of Mississippi was the sixth to settle allegations that it caused the submission of false claims in connection with its use of a now-discredited SNAP quality control contractor, Julie Osnes. According to DOJ’s press release:

The Mississippi Department of Health Services (MDHS) has agreed to pay the United States $5 million to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act in its administration of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Department of Justice announced today.  Until 2008, SNAP was known as the Food Stamp Program. 

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Under SNAP, USDA provides eligible low-income individuals and families with financial assistance to buy nutritious food.  Since 2010, SNAP has served on average more than 45 million Americans per month, and provided more than $71 billion annually. 

Although the federal government funds SNAP benefits, it relies on the states to determine whether applicants are eligible for benefits, to administer those benefits, and to perform quality control to ensure that eligibility decisions are accurate.  The USDA requires that the states’ quality control processes ensure that benefits are correctly awarded, are free from bias, and accurately report states’ error rates in making eligibility decisions. 

The USDA reimburses states for a portion of their administrative expenses in administering SNAP, including expenses for providing quality control.  It also pays performance bonuses to states that report the lowest and the most improved error rates each year, and can impose monetary sanctions on states with high error rates that do not show improvement. 

The settlement resolves allegations that beginning in 2012, MDHS contracted with a consultant known as Julie Osnes Consulting, LLC (Osnes Consulting) to provide advice and recommendations designed to lower its SNAP quality control error rate.  The United States alleged that Osnes Consulting’s recommendations, as implemented by MDHS, injected bias into MDHS’s quality control process and resulted in MDHS submitting false quality control data and information to USDA, for which it received undeserved performance bonuses for fiscal years 2012 and 2013.   

This is the seventh settlement in this matter, and the sixth settlement with a state agency for manipulating its SNAP quality control findings.  The United States has reached previous settlements with state agencies in Virginia, Wisconsin, Texas, Louisiana, and Alaska, as well as with Osnes Consulting and its owner, Julie Osnes.  Including this settlement, the United States has now recovered over $41 million in connection with this investigation.  

The settlement was the result of a joint investigation conducted by the USDA-OIG, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington, and the Department of Justice’s Civil Division, Commercial Litigation Branch.  The investigation arose out of a nationwide audit of SNAP Quality Control processes by the USDA-OIG. * * *

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