Audits of safety net programs enable “One Door” to combat poverty in Louisiana
You may not have noticed as other hot-button issues have taken center stage, but over the past few years, the Louisiana Legislature has been digging into the state’s administration of large federally-funded state assistance programs to evaluate how well they’re serving the 800,000 Louisianans in poverty who receive government aid. Louisiana leads the nation in the percent of individuals in poverty (17.2%), and even when accounting for cost-of-living differences like housing, the state still comes in in the top five states. The impact of poverty on Louisiana’s people is significant and long-lasting, and its effects on our state are detrimental.
The largest of the federally-funded, state-administered assistance programs are the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance Program for Needy Families (TANF) program, and Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) programs. According to federal agency websites:
- “SNAP provides food benefits to low-income families to supplement their grocery budget so they can afford the nutritious food essential to health and well-being.” (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
- “TANF is a time-limited program that helps families when parents or other relatives cannot provide for the family’s basic needs.” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
- “WIOA is…designed to strengthen and improve our nation’s public workforce system and help get Americans, including youth and those with significant barriers to employment, into high-quality jobs and careers and help employers hire and retain skilled workers.” (U.S. Department of Labor)
In 2021, the Louisiana Legislature passed Senate Resolution 107, urging and requesting the Louisiana Legislative Auditor (LLA) to conduct an efficiency audit of the Department of Children and Family Services’ administration of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The audit was published by the LLA on December 22, 2021, finding that “Currently, DCFS does not collect sufficient outcome information to determine the overall effectiveness of TANF-funded programs and initiatives. The current performance measures that DCFS uses to monitor and evaluate TANF programs are mostly output and process measures which are not useful in determining whether programs are effective at meeting TANF goals.”
The audit also found that Louisiana has the lowest Work Participation Rate (WPR) in the nation at 3.5% for federal fiscal year 2020. Under the WPR, states must engage a certain percentage of families receiving cash assistance in specific work activities, such as employment, job searches, or vocational training.
In 2022, the Legislature called on the LLA to perform two additional similar audits, this time for the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services’ administration of SNAP (House Resolution 248) and the Louisiana Workforce Commission’s administration of WIOA (House Resolution 184). The LLA published a performance audit of SNAP on March 1, 2023, finding:
- Most SNAP cases are closed for non-financial procedural reasons instead of SNAP participants not meeting financial eligibility requirements such as too much income, and most SNAP participants who lose benefits begin receiving them again within three months. During federal fiscal years 2018-2022, 81.1% of almost 1.5 million SNAP cases that closed were closed for non-financial procedural reasons, and from January 2019 through February 2020, 59.5% of cases closed were re-opened within 90 days of closure.
- The percent of SNAP cases DCFS reviewed for quality control that had errors increased from federal fiscal years 2018-2022. In addition, while DCFS’ error rates were lower than or near the national average in federal fiscal years 2018 and 2019, error rates increased from federal fiscal years 2018 through 2021. According to DCFS, these errors increased due to staffing shortages and emergency and disaster related operations.
The LLA is currently working to complete its performance audit of the state’s administration of WIOA. That audit report is expected to be released this summer. The most recent financial audit of the agency and program, published in 2019, revealed inadequate monitoring of subrecipients for compliance with federal laws and regulations.
Louisiana has exercised an option available to states to combine SNAP, TANF, WIOA, and a few smaller federal programs into a combined state plan, but it reads as a long consecutive list of individual plans instead of a coordinated effort. Questions remain as to how well the programs are actually being coordinated to achieve efficiencies, streamline service delivery, and improve outcomes for those being served.
Given these programs’ similar missions and beneficiaries who often receive assistance through two or all three of them, the Legislature recently asked the LLA through House Resolution 100 of the 2023 legislative session to perform an audit or evaluation of these and other assistance programs to identify areas for improved coordination of efforts. It states:
WHEREAS, there are several programs administered by state agencies to provide assistance to needy families; to reduce homelessness, unemployment, and hunger; to promote affordable housing; and to promote educational opportunities, job preparation, and employment; and
WHEREAS, recent audits of TANF and SNAP programs have indicated that there is a lack of coordination among, knowledge of, and information regarding outcomes for these programs; and
WHEREAS, improved collaboration and coordination among all of the programs will greatly increase the state’s ability to impact intergenerational poverty, improve educational and employment opportunities; and reduce hunger; all to improve the economic and physical well-being of the citizens of Louisiana.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the House of Representatives of the Legislature of Louisiana does hereby urge and request the legislative auditor to conduct an appropriate audit or evaluation of assistance programs in this state to evaluate participation, costs, and outcomes for each program and identify areas for improved coordination of efforts, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Employment and Training initiative (SNAP E&T), Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF), Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), unemployment insurance program, and any other block grant and assistance programs the legislative auditor deems necessary to include.
The information gleaned from these performance audits over the next several months is expected to aid the new incoming state legislature and governor with a strong plan for better coordinating and improving the administration of these programs going forward so they can achieve more positive outcomes like work and self-sufficiency for the people of Louisiana.
These actions could also prepare and position our state well as Congress considers whether to allow all states to fully integrate—not just coordinate—the administration of these programs as Utah did years ago with impressive results. The Pelican Institute, Georgia Center for Opportunity, and Texas Public Policy Foundation have been working as part of the Alliance for Opportunity to study Utah’s successful “one door” model and urge Congress to grant all states the authority and flexibility to do the same. Check out a new video and policy brief about this work here.
By improving its safety net system, Louisiana can optimize its use of hundreds of millions of dollars supporting these programs and untangle the current tangled web that too often traps more people than it helps. Louisiana’s people in poverty must be able to access help no matter where they enter the system and get on their feet more quickly. That means hope and opportunity for them and a strong comeback for Louisiana.
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