July 1, 2002 – The V.I. government received a $519,000 check from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday because the Human Services Department has been so efficient in calculating benefits for food-stamp recipients.
The territory is one of 10 states and insular jurisdictions that earned the "enhanced funding" from the federal government for making so few errors in its food-stamp program, according to Eric Bost, Agriculture undersecretary for Food and Nutrition Services, who presented the check to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull on Monday at a ceremony at Government House.
"Sometimes it feels as if we are at the bottom of everything here, but you see, it's not true," Turnbull said as he praised the Human Services staff working in the food stamps program. "When we turn in reports on time and keep in touch with our partners in the federal government, good things happen."
The money is to go into the General Fund.
The USDA fines jurisdictions that improperly calculate food-stamp benefits for recipients and gives the enhanced funding to states that make few errors in calculating the benefits, Bost explained. California, for example, owes the federal government $115 million this year for improper calculations, he said.
About 4,500 households in the territory consisting of about 16,000 people receive food stamps, which help pay for food costs. Those numbers represent about 15 percent of the territory's population, according to Human Services Commissioner Sedonie Halbert.
The food stamp office has been fully computerized since 1997, which has helped in the efficient calculation of benefits, Halbert said.
This year marks the first time since 1995 that the program has received enhanced funding from the federal government. In 1987, the V.I. government had to pay about $1.5 million in fines to the federal government for improperly calculating benefits, according to Juel Molloy, the governor's chief of staff, who formerly served as Human Services commissioner.
"There was a time that the food-stamp program here was pretty bad," Molloy said. "This goes to show that things can be turned around."
Bost said the Virgin Islands is expected to receive even more enhanced funding from the program next year.
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