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Vermont reduces food assistance error rate
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Vermont has received a federal funding bonus of $293,000 after reducing the error rate in its 3SquaresVT food assistance program by more than two-thirds, officials said Thursday.

Ken Schatz, commissioner of the Department for Children and Families, said the error rate dropped from 9.66 percent in fiscal 2013 to 2.7 percent for fiscal 2014, which is below the national average of 3.6 percent.

Gov. Peter Shumlin said in a statement that the bonus money would be put into “initiatives that support program integrity, enhance program access, improve customer service, and continue strengthening our ability to serve Vermonters in need.”

The state had been struggling to get its error rate down, and had paid $680,000 in federal penalties in recent years for its earlier failure to do so.

Advocates for low-income Vermonters were dismayed when the state sent notices to some beneficiaries of the program formerly known as food stamps saying they would have to repay the program when they were found to have received too much in benefits.

Marissa Parisi, executive director of the group Hunger Free Vermont, lauded the state for its efforts to soften the blow with recipients. Vermont negotiated a compromise with the U.S. Department of Agriculture under which repayments to the 3Squares program were reduced by half, officials said.

“We really applaud DCF for all the steps they took to resolve the issue,” Parisi said.

The state was above a 6 percent error rate — the threshold for penalties — in federal fiscal years 2011, 2012 and 2013, said Sean Brown, deputy commissioner of the Department for Children and Families.

Most of the errors were overpayments, officials said.

It added new workers to the unit that reviews eligibility for benefits, developed more staff training and consulted with national experts on best practices in an effort to correct the problem.