The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (THHSC ) recently agreed to pay the U.S. more than $15 million to settle a lawsuit alleging it violated the False Claims Act.
Late last month, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (THHSC ) agreed to pay a whopping $15,294,360 to the United States to settle a lawsuit alleging it “violated the False Claims Act in its administration of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).” For those who don’t know, SNAP is a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that provides financial assistance to purchase food to low-income families and individuals.
Despite it being a federal program, “SNAP relies on states to determine applicant eligibility, administer benefits and perform quality control assessments.” From there, the USDA “reimburses states for their portion of expenses related to the SNAP program, including providing quality control.” However, the lawsuit against the Texas Health and Human Services Commission alleged there were violations in the way it operated the state’s SNAP program. For starters, the THHSC “is alleged to have contracted with Julie Osnes Consulting LLC (Osnes Consulting) beginning in 2009.” The lawsuit claimed “Osnes Consulting’s recommendations, as implemented by THHSC, caused some bias in the quality-control process.” The result was the THHSC submitting false data and other information in the quality-control reports to the USDA. In submitting the false data, the THHSC “received performance bonuses in fiscal years 2010, 2013 and 2014,” according to the suit.
When commenting on the matter, Special Agent in Charge Bethanne M. Dinkins of the USDA Office of Inspector General (OIG) said:
“During the investigation, conducted by OIG’s Northeast Regional Office, we worked together to address the concerns of employees of multiple states and others who alleged that the integrity of the SNAP quality control process was weakened by third-party consultants. These concerned individuals reported that cases were not being treated in a consistent manner, and that certain advice from consultants resulted in identified errors being diminished rather than used to improve eligibility determinations.”
William D. Hyslop, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, also chimed in and said:
“Although it is appalling that these actions occurred within a state agency entrusted with assisting vulnerable and needy residents, I am heartened that THHSC has resolved its liability and cooperated with our investigation. Together with our partners in the Justice Department’s Civil Division and the USDA, we will continue to investigate and hold accountable those who misuse and wrongfully obtain SNAP funding.”
The recent settlement is the result of joint efforts and investigations by the USDA Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington and the Department of Justice’s Civil Division, Commercial Litigation Branch. While speaking out about the settlement, Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division said:
“SNAP is an important program for helping families in need. This settlement is an example of the Department of Justice’s commitment to ensuring that taxpayer funds are spent appropriately so that the public can have confidence in the integrity of vital programs like SNAP.”