Do I Need to Pay Back Food Stamps?

by Michelle Dwyer; Updated September 26, 2017

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is a government initiative that provides food allotments to families in need. When you receive SNAP benefits accurately and legally, you don't have to pay them back. You do, however, have to pay back benefits if you received them fraudulently, or if the state made an error and gave you too many food stamp dollars.

Fraud

In cases where you or someone in your household lied or deliberately withheld information to get food stamps, you are responsible to pay back the extra amount you received if you get caught. Your case will be reworked, and if you're still eligible for food stamps under the correct income, a portion of the amount you owe will be deducted from each allotment until you pay back the debt. In addition, your case may be marked as having a household member that committed an intentional program violation. If so, he will be disqualified from receiving benefits for a specific amount of time. This will bring your SNAP benefit amount down even further.

Each state governs its own penalties. In Texas, for example, you can be disqualified for 10 years depending on the fraud.

Agency Error

If your caseworker makes a mistake while working your case that results in a SNAP overpayment, you still are responsible for paying back the benefits you erroneously received. This process works the same as it does for intentional program violations. If you're still eligible for SNAP after your income is recalculated, a portion of the debt will be taken out of your monthly SNAP allotment. There is a statute of limitations on collecting overpaid benefits due to agency errors, which varies by state. In Illinois, for example, the statute is 12 months from receiving the overpayment.

Client Error

If you withhold vital information that can affect your case, but you did so unintentionally, most likely you will not be labeled as an intentional program violator. However, you will still be responsible for paying back the SNAP benefits you shouldn't have received. For example, say you get a raise and fail to report a change in income in a timely manner. You then explain to the caseworker that you misunderstood the reporting requirements. The caseworker will rework the case and adjust the amount of benefits you receive. Again, a portion of the debt will be taken out the your adjusted food stamp allotment.

Payment Amounts For Active Recipients

For clients who still receive SNAP benefits after discovering an overpayment, the general rule of thumb for collection of overpayments due to unintentional agency errors or client errors usually is $10 dollars or 10 percent of your correct food stamp allotment, whichever is more. For intentional violations, this usually is increased to about 20 percent of your correct food stamp allotment. However, this amount varies between states.

Tips

  • You have the right to appeal an overpayment determination. When you receive your notification of overpayment, your state will also provide you with information on how to appeal. State policies vary, but generally, you will have 60 days to appeal.

Closed Cases

If you no longer receive food stamps, and you are deemed responsible for an overpayment after the fact, you still are required to pay back the amount of food stamps you received in error. Each state has its own collection policies, but most will ask you to voluntarily enter into a repayment plan. If you don't, states have the authority to garnish your tax returns, Social Security income and unemployment compensation. States also have the right to sue to collect the amount owed.

About the Author

Michelle Dwyer is a U.S. Army veteran writing fiction and nonfiction since 2003. She specializes in business, careers, leadership, military affairs and organizational change and behavior. Dwyer received an MBA from Tarleton State University/Texas A&M Central Texas and an MFA in creative writing from National University in La Jolla, Calif.

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