(a) General. A sample of households which were certified prior to, or during, the sample month and issued SNAP benefits for the sample month shall be selected for quality control review. These active cases shall be reviewed to determine if the household is eligible and, if eligible, whether the household is receiving the correct allotment. The determination of a household's eligibility shall be based on an examination and verification of all elements of eligibility (i.e., basic program requirements, resources, income, and deductions). The elements of eligibility are specified in §§ 273.1 and 273.3 through 273.9 of this chapter. The verified circumstances and the resulting benefit level determined by the quality control review shall be compared to the benefits authorized by the State agency as of the review date. When changes in household circumstances occur, the reviewer shall determine whether the changes were reported by the participant and handled by the agency in accordance with the rules set forth in §§ 273.12, 273.13 and 273.21 of this chapter, as appropriate. For active cases, the review date shall always fall within the sample month, either the first day of a calendar or fiscal month or the day of certification, whichever is later. The review of active cases shall include: a household case record review; a field investigation, except as provided in paragraph (b) of this section; the identification of any variances; an error analysis; and the reporting of review findings.
(b) Household case record review. The reviewer shall examine the household case record to identify the specific facts relating to the household's eligibility and basis of issuance. If the reviewer is unable to locate the household case record, the reviewer shall identify as many of the pertinent facts as possible from the household issuance record. The case record review shall include all information applicable to the case as of the review month, including the application and worksheet in effect as of the review date. Documentation contained in the case record can be used as verification if it is not subject to change and applies to the sample month. If during the case record review the reviewer can determine and verify the household's ineligibility the review can be terminated at that point, provided that if the determination is based on information not obtained from the household then the correctness of that information must be confirmed as provided in paragraph (c)(2) of this section. The reviewer shall utilize information obtained through the case record review to complete column (2) of the Form FNS-380, and to tentatively plan the content of the field investigation.
(c) Field investigation. A full field investigation shall be conducted for all active cases selected in the sample month except as provided in paragraph (b) of this section. A full field investigation shall include a review of any information pertinent to a particular case which is available through the State Income and Eligibility Verification System (IEVS) as specified in § 272.8 of this chapter. If during the field investigation the reviewer determines and verifies the household's ineligibility, the review can be terminated at that point, provided that if the determination is based on information not obtained from the household then the correctness of that information must be confirmed as provided in paragraph (c)(2) of this section. In Alaska an exception to this requirement can be made in those isolated areas not reachable by regularly scheduled commercial air service, automobile, or other public transportation provided one fully documented attempt to contact the household has been made. Such cases may be completed through casefile review and collateral contact. The field investigation will include interviews with the head of household, spouse, or authorized representative; contact with collateral sources of information; and any other materials and activity pertinent to the review of the case. The scope of the review shall not extend beyond the examination of household circumstances which directly relate to the determination of household eligibility and basis of issuance status. The reviewer shall utilize information obtained through the field investigation to complete column (3) of the Form FNS-380.
(1) Personal interviews. Personal interviews shall be conducted in a manner that respects the rights, privacy, and dignity of the participants. Prior to conducting the personal interview, the reviewer shall notify the household that it has been selected, as part of an ongoing review process, for review by quality control, and that a personal face-to-face interview will be conducted in the future. The method of notifying the household and the specificity of the notification shall be determined by the State agency, in accordance with applicable State and Federal laws. The personal interview may take place at the participant's home, at an appropriate State agency certification office, or at a mutually agreed upon alternative location. The State agency shall determine the best location for the interview to take place, but would be subject to the same provisions as those regarding certification interviews at § 273.2(e)(2) of this chapter. Those regulations provide that an office interview must be waived under certain hardship conditions. Under such hardship conditions the quality control reviewer shall either conduct the personal interview with the participant's authorized representative, if one has been appointed by the household, or with the participant in the participant's home. Except in Alaska, when an exception to the field investigation is made in accordance with this section, the interview with the participant may not be conducted by phone. During the personal interview with the participant, the reviewer shall:
(i) Explore with the head of the household, spouse, authorized representative, or any other responsible household member, household circumstances as they affect each factor of eligibility and basis of issuance;
(ii) Establish the composition of the household;
(iii) Review the documentary evidence in the household's possession and secure information about collateral sources of verification; and
(iv) Elicit from the participant names of collateral contacts. The reviewer shall use, but not be limited to, these designated collateral contacts. If required by the State, the reviewer shall obtain consent from the head of the household to secure collateral information. If the participant refuses to sign the release of information form, the reviewer shall explain fully the consequences of this refusal to cooperate (as contained in paragraph (g)(1)(ii) of this section), and continue the review to the fullest extent possible.
(2) Collateral contacts. The reviewer shall obtain verification from collateral contacts in all instances when adequate documentation was not available from the participant. This second party verification shall cover each element of eligibility as it affects the household's eligibility and allotment. The reviewer shall make every effort to use the most reliable second party verification available (for example, banks, payroll listings, etc.), in accordance with FNS guidelines, and shall thoroughly document all verification obtained. If any information obtained by the QC reviewer differs from that given by the participant, then the reviewer shall resolve the differences to determine which information is correct before an error determination is made. The manner in which the conflicting information is resolved shall include recontacting the participant unless the participant cannot be reached. When resolving conflicting information reviewers shall use their best judgement based on the most reliable data available and shall document how the differences were resolved.
(d) Variance identification. The reviewer shall identify any element of a basic program requirement or the basis of issuance which varies (i.e., information from review findings which indicates that policy was applied incorrectly and/or information verified as of the review date that differs from that used at the most recent certification action). For each element that varies, the reviewer shall determine whether the variance was State agency or participant caused. The results of these determinations shall be coded and recorded in column (4) of the Form FNS-380.
(1) Variances included in error analysis. Except for those variances in an element resulting from one of the situations described in paragraph (d)(2) of this section, any variance involving an element of eligibility or basis of issuance shall be included in the error analysis. Such variances shall include but not be limited to those resulting from a State agency's failure to take the disqualification action related to SSN's specified in § 273.6(c) of this chapter, and related to work requirements, specified in § 273.7(f) of this chapter.
(2) Variances excluded from error analysis. The following variances shall be excluded from the determination of a household's eligibility and basis of issuance for the sample month:
(i) Any variance resulting from the nonverified portion of a household's gross nonexempt income where there is conclusive documentation (a listing of what attempts were made to verify and why they were unsuccessful) that such income could not be verified at the time of certification because the source of income would not cooperate in providing verification and no other sources of verification were available. If there is no conclusive documentation as explained above, then the reviewer shall not exclude any resulting variance from the error determination. This follows certification policy outlined in § 273.2(f)(1)(i) of this chapter.
(ii) Any variance in cases certified under expedited certification procedures resulting from postponed verification of an element of eligibility as allowed under § 273.2(i)(4)(i) of this chapter. Verification of gross income, deductions, resources, household composition, alien status, or tax dependency may be postponed for cases eligible for expedited certification. However, if a case certified under expedited procedures contains a variance as a result of a residency deficiency, a mistake in the basis of issuance computation, a mistake in participant identification, or incorrect expedited income accounting, the variance shall be included in the error determination. This exclusion shall only apply to those cases which are selected for QC review in the first month of participation under expedited certification.
(iii) Any variance subsequent to certification in an element of eligibility or basis of issuance which was not reported and was not required to have been reported as of the review date. The elements participants are required to report and the time requirements for reporting are specified in §§ 273.12(a) and 273.21(h) and (i) of this chapter, as appropriate. If, however, a change in any element is reported, and the State agency fails to act in accordance with §§ 273.12(c) and 273.21(j) of this chapter, as appropriate, any resulting variance shall be included in the error determination.
(iv) Any variance in deductible expenses which was not provided for in determining a household's benefit level in accordance with § 273.2(f)(3)(i)(B) of this chapter. This provision allows households to have their benefit level determined without providing for a claimed expense when the expense is questionable and obtaining verification may delay certification. If such a household subsequently provides the needed verification for the claimed expense and the State agency does not redetermine the household's benefits in accordance with § 273.12(c) of this chapter, any resulting variance shall be included in the error determination.
(v) Any variance resulting from use by the State agency of information concerning households or individuals from an appropriate Federal source, provided that such information is correctly processed by the State agency. An appropriate Federal source is one which verifies: Income that it provides directly to the household; deductible expenses for which it directly bills the household; or other household circumstances which it is responsible for defining or establishing. To meet the provisions for correct processing, the eligibility worker must have appropriately acted on timely information. In order to be timely, information must be the most current that was available to the State agency at the time of the eligibility worker's action.
(vi) Two variances relating to the Immigration and Naturalization Service's (INS) Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) Program.
(A) A variance based on a verification of alien documentation by INS. The reviewer shall exclude such variance only if the State agency properly used SAVE and the State agency provides the reviewer with:
(1) The alien's name;
(2) The alien's status; and
(3) Either the Alien Status Verification Index (ASVI) Query Verification Number or the INS Form G-845, as annotated by INS.
(B) A variance based on the State agency's wait for the response of INS to the State agency's request for official verification of the alien's documentation. The reviewer shall exclude such variance only if the State agency properly used SAVE and the State agency provides the reviewer with either:
(1) The date of request, if the State agency was waiting for an automated response; or
(2) A copy of the completed Form G-845, if the State agency was waiting for secondary verification from INS.
(vii) Subject to the limitations provided in paragraphs (d)(2)(vii)(A) through (d)(2)(vii)(F) of this section, any variance resulting from application of a new Program regulation or implementing memorandum of a mandatory or optional change in Federal law that occurs during the first 120 days from the required implementation date. The variance exclusion shall apply to any action taken on a case directly related to implementation of a covered provision during the 120-day exclusionary period until the case is required to be recertified or acted upon for some other reason.
(A) When a regulation allows a State agency an option to implement prior to the required implementation date, the date on which the State agency chooses to implement may, at the option of the State, be considered to be the required implementation date for purposes of this provision. The exclusion period would be adjusted to begin with this date and end on the 120th day that follows. States choosing to implement prior to the required implementation date must notify the appropriate FNS Regional Office, in writing, prior to implementation that they wish the 120 day variance exclusion to commence with actual implementation. Absent such notification, the exclusionary period will commence with the required implementation date.
(B) A State agency shall not exclude variances which occur prior to the States implementation.
(C) A State agency which did not implement until after the exclusion period shall not exclude variances under this provision.
(D) Regardless of when the State agency actually implemented the regulation, the variance exclusion period shall end on the 120th day following the required implementation date, including the required implementation date defined in paragraph (d)(2)(vii)(A) of this section.
(E) For purposes of this provision, implementation occurs on the effective date of State agency's written statewide notification to its eligibility workers.
(F) This variance exclusion applies to changes occasioned by final regulations or interim regulations. In the case of a final regulation issued following an interim regulation, the exclusion applies only to significant changes made to the earlier interim regulation. A significant change is one which the final regulation requires the State agency to implement on or after publication of a final rule.
(viii) Any variance resulting from incorrect written policy that a State agency acts on that is provided by a Departmental employee authorized to issue SNAP policy and that the State agency correctly applies. For purposes of this provision, written Federal policy is that which is issued in regulations, notices, handbooks, category three and four Policy Memoranda under the Policy Interpretation Response System, and regional policy memoranda issued pursuant to these. Written Federal policy is also a letter from the Food and Nutrition Service to a State agency which contains comments on the State agency's SNAP manual or instructions.
(ix) Any variance in a child support deduction which was the result of an unreported change subsequent to the most recent certification action shall be excluded from the error determination.
(3) Other findings. Findings other than variances made during the review which are pertinent to the SNAP household or the case record may be acted on at the discretion of the State agency. Examples of such findings are: an incorrect age of a household member which is unrelated to an element of eligibility; an overdue subsequent certification; no current application on file; insufficient documentation; incorrect application of the verification requirements specified in part 273 of this chapter; and deficiencies in work registration procedural requirements. Such deficiencies include: inadequate documentation of each household member's exempt status; work registration form for each nonexempt household member not completed at the time of application and every six months thereafter; and the household not advised of its responsibility to report any changes in the exempt status of any household member.
(e) Error analysis. The reviewer shall analyze all appropriate variances in completed cases, in accordance with paragraph (d) of this section, which are based upon verified information and determine whether such cases are either eligible, eligible with a basis of issuance error, or ineligible. The review of an active case determined ineligible shall be considered completed at the point of the ineligibility determination. For households determined eligible, the review shall be completed to the point where the correctness of the basis of issuance is determined, except in the situations outlined in paragraph (g) of this section. In the event that a review is conducted of a household which is receiving restored or retroactive benefits for the sample month, the portion of the allotment which is the restored or retroactive benefit shall be excluded from the determination of the household's eligibility and/or basis of issuance. A SNAP case in which a household member(s) receives public assistance shall be reviewed in the same manner as all other SNAP cases, using income as received. The determination of a household's eligibility and the correctness of the basis of issuance shall be determined based on data entered on the computation sheet as well as other information documented on other portions of the Form FNS-380, as appropriate.
(f) Reporting of review findings. All information verified to be incorrect during the review of an active case shall be reported to the State agency for appropriate action on an individual case basis. This includes information on all variances in elements of eligibility and basis of issuance in both error and nonerror cases. In addition, the reviewer shall report the review findings on the Form FNS-380-1, in accordance with the following procedures:
(1) Eligibility errors. If the reviewer determines that a case is ineligible, the occurrence and the total allotment issued in the sample month shall be coded and reported. Whenever a case contains a variance in an element which results in an ineligibility determination and there are also variances in elements which would cause a basis of issuance error, the case shall be treated as an eligibility error. The reviewer shall also code and report any variances that directly contributed to the error determination. In addition, if the State agency has chosen to report information on all variances in elements of eligibility and basis of issuance, the reviewer shall code and report any other such variances which were discovered and verified during the course of the review.
(2) Basis of issuance of errors. If the reviewer determines that SNAP allotments were either overissued or underissued to eligible households in the sample month, the State agency shall code and report any variances that directly contributed to the error determination that were discovered and verified during the course of the review. For fiscal year 2014, only variances that exceed $37.00 (the threshold) shall be included in the calculation of the underissuance error rate, overissuance error rate, and payment error. For fiscal years 2015 and thereafter, this QC tolerance level shall be adjusted annually by the percentage by which the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) for the 48 contiguous States and the District of Columbia is adjusted. If the State agency has chosen to report information on all variances in elements of eligibility and basis of issuance, the reviewer shall code and report any other such variances that were discovered and verified during the course of the review.
(g) Disposition of case reviews. Each case selected in the sample of active cases must be accounted for by classifying it as completed, not completed, or not subject to review. These case dispositions shall be coded and recorded on the Form FNS-380-1.
(1) Cases reported as not complete. Active cases shall be reported as not completed if the household case record cannot be located and the household itself is not subsequently located; if the household case record is located but the household cannot be located unless the reviewer attempts to locate the household as specified in this paragraph; or if the household refuses to cooperate, as discussed in this paragraph. All cases reported as not complete shall be reported to the State agency for appropriate action on an individual case basis. Without FNS approval, no active case shall be reported as not completed solely because the State agency was unable to process the case review in time for it to be reported in accordance with the timeframes specified in § 275.21(b)(2).
(i) If the reviewer is unable to locate the participant either at the address indicated in the case record or in the issuance record and the State agency is not otherwise aware of the participant's current address, the reviewer shall attempt to locate the household by contacting at least two sources which the State agency determines are most likely to be able to inform the reviewer of the household's current address. Such sources include but are not limited to:
(A) The local office of the U.S. Postal Service;
(B) The State Motor Vehicle Department;
(C) The owner or property manager of the residence at the address in the case record; and
(D) Any other appropriate sources based on information contained in the case record, such as public utility companies, telephone company, employers, or relatives. Once the reviewer has attempted to locate the household and has documented the response of each source contacted, if the household still cannot be located and the State agency has documented evidence that the household did actually exist, the State agency shall report the active case as not subject to review. In these situations documented evidence shall be considered adequate if it either documents two different elements of eligibility or basis of issuance, such as a copy of a birth certificate for age and pay status for income; or documents the statement of a collateral contact indicating that the household did exist. FNS Regional Offices will monitor the results of the contacts which State agencies make in attempting to locate households.
(ii) If a household refuses to cooperate with the quality control reviewer and the State agency has taken other administrative steps to obtain that cooperation without obtaining it, the household shall be notified of the penalities for refusing to cooperate with respect to termination and reapplication, and of the possibility that its case will be referred for investigation for willful misrepresentation. If a household refuses to cooperate after such notice, the reviewer must- attempt to complete the case and shall report the household's refusal to the State agency for termination of its participation without regard for the outcome of that attempt. For a determination of refusal to be made, the household must be able to cooperate, but clearly demonstrate that it will not take actions that it can take and that are required to complete the quality control review process. In certain circumstances, the household may demonstrate that it is unwilling to cooperate by not taking actions after having been given every reasonable opportunity to do so, even though the household or its members do not state that the household refuses to cooperate. Instances where the household's unwillingness to cooperate in completing a quality control review has the effect of a refusal to cooperate shall include the following:
(A) The household does not respond to a letter from the reviewer sent Certified Mail-Return Receipt Requested within 30 days of the date of receipt;
(B) The household does not attend an agreed upon interview with the reviewer and then does not contact the reviewer within 10 days of the date of the scheduled interview to reschedule the interview; or
(C) The household does not return a signed release of information statement to the reviewer within 10 days of either agreeing to do so or receiving a request from the reviewer sent Certified Mail-Return Receipt Requested. However, in these and other situations, if there is any question as to whether the household has merely failed to cooperate, as opposed to refused to cooperate, the household shall not be reported to the State agency for termination.
(2) Cases not subject to review. Active cases which are not subject to review, if they have not been eliminated in the sampling process, shall be eliminated in the review process. In addition to cases listed in § 275.11(f)(1), these shall include:
(i) Death of all members of a household if they died before the review could be undertaken or completed;
(ii) The household moved out of State before the review could be undertaken or completed;
(iii) The household, at the time of the review, is under active investigation for intentional SNAP violation, including a household with a pending administrative disqualification hearing;
(iv) A household receiving restored benefits in accordance with § 273.17 of this chapter but not participating based upon an approved application for the sample month;
(v) A household dropped as a result of correction for oversampling;
(vi) A household participating under disaster certification authorized by FNS for a natural disaster;
(vii) A case incorrectly listed in the active frame;
(viii) A household appealing an adverse action when the review date falls within the time period covered by continued participation pending the hearing;
(ix) A household that did not receive benefits for the sample month; or
(x) A household that still cannot be located after the reviewer has attempted to locate it in accordance with paragraph (g)(1)(i) of this section.
(h) Demonstration projects. Households correctly classified for participation under the rules of a demonstration project which establishes new FNS-authorized eligibility criteria or modifies the rules for determining households' eligibility or allotment level shall be reviewed following standard procedures provided that FNS does not modify these procedures to reflect modifications in the treatment of elements of eligibility or basis of issuance in the case of a demonstration project. If FNS determines that information obtained from these cases would not be useful, then they may be excluded from review.