"These are federal dollars we have to recoup," said Richard Gibbings, Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Children and Families.
According to DCF, in FY 2013 over 52,000 families received 3SquaresVT benefits, also known as SNAP or food stamps. DCF made 130 errors, averaging $978 in over-payments to each family over the course of the year.
State Rep. Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington) is one of the sponsors of a bill to protect the families who were overpaid. Normally, the state repays the federal government by asking those families to give back the money. But H.620 would change that, to make the state repay the money instead.
"This is a fairness issue," Rep. Krowinski said. "We don't believe a mistake that the state makes should be implemented on vulnerable Vermonters who are already challenged and are in poverty," she said.
Advocates who work with these families testified in front of the House Human Services committee Thursday.
"So the families were getting their benefits who received the over-payments, and they shopped for food," said Marissa Parisi, Executive Director of Hunger Free Vermont. "When they get their benefits they believe they are accurate. They have no reason to believe otherwise," she said.
Parisi says one family she works with was surprised with a $2,000 bill from the state. That family is on a payment plan of 5 dollars a month to pay back the debt.
"They've asked for help, they've receive their benefits, they've trusted the system, then they get this enormous debt," she said.
To give some perspective, the USDA does let states make some mistakes, up to a 6% error rate. The national average is just 3%. Vermont's error rate is 9%.
DCF partially blames human error and their IT system.
"It's a very manual process," said Richard Giddings. "So I can look at four pay-stubs, but if I enter it wrong, it can be an error."
This is the second year in a row Vermont has been sanctioned for exceeding that allow 6% margin of error.
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