The Government Accountability Office reported Wednesday that federal programs offering kids discounted breakfast and lunch programs at school are among the seven government programs most susceptible to "payment error."
GAO released a report on improper federal payments, which found the government made a total of $106 billion improper payments in fiscal year 2013. As big as that number is, it's a small reduction from the $107 billion in improper payments made in the prior year.
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama helps students from five District of Columbia schools make a meal using the summer crop from the White House Kitchen Garden in the State Dining Room at the White House last month. The first lady has been a supporter of healthier school lunch choices; meanwhile, the Government Accountability Office reported billions of dollars worth of improper payments associated with the program. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
GAO stressed that the $106 billion in improper payments does not mean all of that money was lost — that total includes payments that should not have been made, but also includes payments made in the wrong amount, or payments made without sufficient documentation.
Still, GAO said the report again shows that the government needs to do more to put in place stronger controls to ensure that correct payments are made to the correct vendors, taxpayers and others who receive federal money.
According to GAO's report, the federal school breakfast program was the most susceptible to payment errors. The report said this program, run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, had a whopping 25.3 percent error rate, which translates to $831 million.
The school lunch program was the fifth worst on a percentage basis, with its 15.7 percent error rate. But that translates to a much higher dollar figure because the school lunch program is so much bigger — $1.77 billion.
Added together, $2.6 billion in improper payments were made in these two programs alone. GAO did not specify exactly how USDA managed to make these improper payments, or whether it reflects payments to food vendors or other entities.
The Earned Income Tax Credit also suffered from a high payment error rate: 24 percent. That translates to $14.5 billion in payment errors.
GAO also ranked the top five programs with the biggest dollar amount of payment error, three of which are run by the Department of Health and Human Services.
HHS's Medicare fee-for-service program reported $36 billion in improper payments, Medicaid reported $14.4 billion, and Medicare Advantage reported $11.8 billion.
Rounding out the top 5 were the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Department of Labor's Unemployment Insurance program.