For the second year in a row, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) presented the County of Santa Clara with an award recognizing the Social Services Agency’s exceptional administration of the CalFresh Program (formerly known as the Food Stamps Program). The award was presented at today’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

“Santa Clara County residents should be extremely proud of their Department of Employment and Benefit Services’ stewardship of the CalFresh program in Federal Fiscal Year 2011 as demonstrated by the County’s accuracy rate of 99.17 % in certifying applicant households to receive food benefits—better than any other state in the country.  This compares with an accuracy rate of 95.42% for the State of California and 96.20% for the nation,” said Dennis Stewart, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Division Director for the Food and Nutrition Services Western Region. “If the country as a whole had achieved the same high accuracy rate as Santa Clara County, there would have been a savings to the taxpayers in misissued benefits of more than $ 2.3 billion nationally. This is a tribute to the County’s compassion for feeding the needy while safeguarding Federal tax dollars.”

CalFresh seeks to improve the health of low-income individuals and families by supplementing their income with benefits to purchase food that is more nutritious. The Program known at the federal level as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) issues monthly electronic benefits that can be used to buy most foods at many markets and food stores.  Achieving a low error rate among counties is essential as it helps the State avoid millions in federal penalties. When the State’s error rate is above the national average, the State is sanctioned and the penalty could be shared by the county.

“This award acknowledges the County’s commitment to support residents often struggling to bring food to the table,” said County of Santa Clara Supervisor Dave Cortese, Chair of the Board’s Children, Seniors and Families Committee. “Receiving this recognition two years in a row is the result of working smart to provide the best service to individuals and families in need, and at the same time, save millions of taxpayer dollars.”

The accuracy rate that Santa Clara County achieved during the past three years continues to increase, from 97.03 percent in Federal Fiscal year 2008, 99.11 percent in 2009, 99.17 percent in 2010.  Santa Clara County’s accuracy rate in Federal Fiscal Year 2011 was 99.41 percent.

“The County is committed to ensure the right households are participating and receiving the correct amount of benefits they have applied for,” said County Executive Jeffrey V. Smith.  “I am pleased with the processes and procedures the Social Services Agency is implementing to safeguard the integrity of such a vital program.”

“Team effort and partnerships within the units and divisions responsible for the administration of the CalFresh Program continue to pay off,” said Santa Clara County Social Services Director Bruce Wagstaff. “I am inspired by the dedication and rigor of our staff. They are resilient when it comes to learning about eligibility regulations, reviewing cases and following up with clients to help maintain accuracy and to ensure this program is serving the right people.”

Wagstaff added that the County’s Department of Employment and Benefit Services is also launching a Corrective Action Plan tailored for each district office to address specific issues, and ensuring collaborations within units to focus on clients with unreported income.