If you get Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits, the Department of Human Services (DHS) may tell you that you have been paid too much.
The overpayment can be for one month, many months or many years. For example, you can be overpaid a few dollars each month. Or, maybe one month you got food stamps that you were not supposed to receive.
How will I know if I have an overpayment?
You should get a notice from DHS which says:
- How much you were overpaid
- When you were overpaid
- Why you were overpaid. For example "client failed to report income"
Does it matter what reason is given for the overpayment?
When an overpayment is discovered, DHS decides who is at fault for the overpayment. They might decide that it was their fault, or your fault. But no matter who caused the overpayment, you have to pay it back.
If someone at DHS made a mistake, the overpayment will be called an "agency error." An example of agency error is when you did report your income, but DHS did not add this income to your budget.
If DHS decides that you were at fault, then the overpayment will be called a "client error." An example of a client error is when someone moves out of your household or has gotten a job and you do not tell DHS. The reason for the overpayment can matter if you are charged with a client error overpayment.
DHS also decides whether the error was on purpose, or just a mistake. If they decide that it was on purpose it is called an "intentional program violation."
Is there a statute of limitations that keeps DHS from collecting really old overpayments?
Yes. DHS cannot collect agency error overpayments for any month that is more than 12 months before the date when the overpayment was discovered.
For example: DHS finds an agency error overpayment on June 1, 2016 for a person who was on food stamps from January 1, 2014 through January 1, 2015. DHS cannot collect that overpayment because the food stamps were paid were more than 12 months before DHS discovered the overpayment.
What should I do if I have been charged with an overpayment?
First you should carefully read the notice. Look at the dates on the notice and ask yourself if someone in your household was working, but not reporting their income during the date(s) DHS put on the notice. Or, did you forget to tell DHS that a person who was counted as a household member has moved out?
If you still have questions after reading the notice, you should file an appeal right away. For example, you might have some questions about:
- The time period of the overpayment,
- The amount of the overpayment,
- How the overpayment was calculated. or
- The reason that DHS gave for the overpayment.
There is no cost to file an appeal, and it is the best way to get DHS to give you a better explanation for why the overpayment occurred. Filing an appeal is the only way to get DHS to change their decision.
How much time do I have to appeal the overpayment?
For TANF and other cash benefits, you must appeal within 60 days from the date of the notice. For SNAP, you have 90 days from the date of the notice to file an appeal.
If the notice says that you were overpaid in both food stamps and cash assistance, you only have 60 days to appeal the overpayment decision for your cash assistance. You should file an appeal in writing at your local DHS office or call Bureau of Assistance Hearings at 1-800-435-0774.
How do I pay DHS back for the overpayment?
There are 2 ways DHS can collect a food stamp overpayment from you: repayment and recoupment.
If you are still getting SNAP or TANF benefits:
When you are charged with a overpayment, a letter asking for payment will be sent to you. The letter gives you the option of paying the entire claim (which is often not an option because of the size of the overpayment) or you can pay by recoupment.
Recoupment is used by DHS in cases that are currently receiving benefits. Recoupment means that DHS will keep part of your current benefits each month until the overpayment is paid off. The amount that is taken from your monthly benefit amount through recoupment depends on the reason for the overpayment.
If your overpayment was an "intentional program violation" the monthly recoupment amount is the greater of $20 or 20% of your current monthly benefit.
For example, if your household currently gets $200 per month in food stamps, DHS would take out $40 each month until the overpayment amount is paid back. This would leave you with $160 in food stamps each month.
If your overpayment was determined to be a client error that was a mistake (not an intentional program violation) or an agency error, the monthly recoupment amount is the greater of $10 or 10% of your current monthly benefit.
For example, if your household currently receives $200 per month in food stamps, DHS would keep $20 per month until the overpayment amount is paid back. This would leave you with $180 in food stamps each month.
If you are no longer getting SNAP or TANF:
When you are charged with an overpayment and you are no longer receiving SNAP or TANF, a letter asking for repayment will be sent to you. When you get the letter, you should work out a payment plan with DHS. You can pay the whole amount of the overpayment or make a payment plan to pay it back over time.
If you don't make payments according to your payment plan for 90 days, your overpayment account will become "delinquent." When this happens, your case can be referred to:
- A collection agency,
- The State Comptroller Offset System, which can take your state tax refund, lottery winnings or a state payroll check,
- The Treasury Offset Program, which can take your federal tax refund, social security benefits, and/or other federal checks,
- The Attorney General for civil prosecution,
- Your employer to garnish your wages, or
- Garnish your unemployment benefits.
If you file bankruptcy while you are in the process of repaying an overpayment, no one can try to collect from you after they are notified of the bankruptcy filing until a decision is made by the bankruptcy court.