The Government Accountability Office has identified $460 million dollars in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamp, benefits that went to households with incomes over the federal SNAP eligibility limits.

The recently released report explains that for fiscal year 2010, states which have expanded eligibility for SNAP through broad-based categorical eligibility (BBCE) made 473,000 additional households eligible SNAP benefits, resulting in an estimated $38 million a month in extra costs, or $460 million in total.

Since 1999, BBCE has allowed households that receive any services funded by Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to receive SNAP benefits. These TANF services can be as minor as using a toll-free number or getting a brochure, and automatically make you eligible for food stamps regardless of your income.

According to another recent report by the Congressional Research Service, more than 40 states and jurisdictions employ BBCE, according to GAO in 2006 just 7 states used BBCE policies.

GAO points out that in the last decade participation in SNAP has doubled and the costs have quadrupled.

The report concludes that BBCE “potentially had a negative effect on SNAP program integrity,” noting that while errors are down in the program the new error low is likely not correlated with the program and BBCE might actually be leading to additional problems.

“In addition, BBCE has led to unintended consequences for SNAP and related programs. For example, in implementing BBCE, some states are designating SNAP applicants as categorically eligible without providing them with the service required to make this determination,” GAO adds.