An image circulating on Facebook makes the claim (among others) that:

The food stamp program has the lowest fraud fraud [sic] rate of any federal government program.

enter image description here

Is it true that the food stamp program (which is now called SNAP) is (or was, when it went by the Food Stamp name) the program with the lowest rate of fraud of any US federal government program? And if so, by what metric (as I can imagine there might be multiple ways to measure fraud, not to mention different types of fraud which may not be directly comparable)?

1 Answer 1


The fraud rate isn't known, but it doesn't have the lowest percentage of improper payments.

An August 2014 GAO report SNAP Enhanced Detection Tools and Reporting Could Improve Efforts to Combat Recipient Fraud notes that the fraud rate is unknown, but notes an improper payment rate of 3.4% for fiscal year 2013.

According to a September 2012 U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General (USDA OIG) report, the magnitude of program abuse due to recipient fraud is unknown because states do not have uniform ways of compiling the data that would provide such information. Therefore, in the report, the USDA OIG recommended that FNS determine the feasibility of creating a uniform methodology for states to calculate their recipient fraud rate.8 As FNS seeks to address this recommendation, it is legally required to monitor its potential improper payments of SNAP benefits. The agency estimated an improper payment or error rate of the program at 3.4 percent, which represented an estimated $2.6 billion in wrongful payments, in fiscal year 2013.9 The percentage represents benefits distributed in error due to administrative as well as recipient errors, not all of which can be attributed to fraud. However, due to the large dollar amount involved in improper payments, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has placed SNAP on its list of high-error programs.

This ranks SNAP 11th out of 13 high-error programs (i.e. those programs that have +$750 million in improper payments) behind PELL grants and Retirement, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (RSDI)

  • 1
    Not quite the lowest, although "among the lowest" would certainly be an accurate adjective. Dec 3, 2014 at 7:47
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    @Shadur, not sure that would be accurate either. Remember, this is a list of the high-error programs that cost the taxpayers +$750 million. So, "among the lowest of the high-error programs." or among the lowest of the programs that cost taxpayers the most.
    – user1873
    Dec 3, 2014 at 14:47
  • @user1873: A good distinction. There are many federal government programs that probably have 0, or nearly 0 fraud, considering there are some programs which simply don't have room for fraud. NASA, for instance, I would venture, has 0 "recipient fraud"--since it has no recipients.
    – Flimzy
    Dec 3, 2014 at 15:11
  • @Flimzy - NASA budget recipients are Boeing, M.-D., and other aerospace companies.
    – user5341
    Dec 4, 2014 at 22:46
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    Having worked for NASA, I'd say probably a huge portion of the budget goes to wasted/faked/by-the-letter-not-by-the-spirit excess. This is why SpaceX can undercut all the existing companies by such a wide margin. The existing companies abuse loopholes in contracting culture to take the maximal amount of money for the least return and the bare minimum success. It may not be illegal, but if we are talking about what is "right" rather than what is illegal, any government agency forced into contracting culture leaks like a sieve. Military is the same way.
    – DampeS8N
    Dec 8, 2014 at 16:03

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