Sen. Roberts renews focus on cutting SNAP benefits

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, March 5, 2013 - Just days after the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) confirmed that cuts made to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would not reduce federal spending as much as expected, U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kan., introduced legislation that he said would “restore integrity” to the program, while saving $36 billion in taxpayer dollars. He's supported by fellow Republican Senators Mike Johanns, R-Neb., and John Thune, R-SD.

“Times are tough right now for millions of Americans and government spending is out of control.” Roberts said. “This bill is a package of straightforward, commonsense reforms that have garnered bipartisan support in the past to address, waste, fraud and abuse.

According to the CBO, the “Improve Nutrition Program Integrity and Deficit Reduction Act” will save the taxpayer more than $36 billion over 10 years. The score can be found here.

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But the bill ignited criticism from many advocates of federal nutrition programs and generated increased skepticism over whether or not the Senate will be able to pass a new farm bill with such a high level of food stamp cuts.

SNAP, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), provided a total of $71.8 billion in food benefits to an average of 44.7 million people per month in fiscal year 2011. SNAP was exempt from the sequester.

Roberts' legislation eliminates loopholes, duplicative programs, unnecessary bonuses, and restricts lottery winners from receiving benefits. “SNAP funds should go to hungry families, not to lotto winners or toward union dues,” Roberts said.

The bill includes many of the provisions advanced by the Senate in a farm bill last year, with some tighter restrictions. Here's a bill summary, provided by Roberts' staff:

Prohibiting Lottery Winners from Receiving SNAP:

The bill prohibits lottery winners from receiving SNAP benefits and keeps them from receiving new benefits if they do not meet the financial requirements of SNAP;

Eliminating SNAP State Bonuses, saves $480 million:

USDA awards $48 million each fiscal year to State agencies for bonuses for signing up as many people for SNAP as possible, for signing more people up for SNAP than the previous year, and for processing applications in a timely manner. The bonuses are not required to be used for SNAP administration; the State may choose to use the funding for any State priority;

Restoring Program Integrity to Categorical Eligibility for SNAP, saves $11.5 billion:

Currently, States can automatically enroll recipients of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF) in SNAP. At the encouragement of USDA, States are exploiting this provision by providing minimal TANF assistance to recipients in the form of informational brochures and 1-800 numbers which then qualifies them for SNAP benefits. The Roberts bill ties automatic SNAP eligibility to TANF cash assistance only;

Eliminating the LIHEAP Loophole, Saves $12 billion:

Similar to the House Agriculture Committee approved farm bill language, this provision closes the so-called Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) Loophole. 17 states exploit this loophole by offering a nominal amount, (e.g. $1) in LIHEAP benefits to boost SNAP participation and benefit levels;

Eliminating Duplicative Employment and Training (E&T) Programs, Saves $4.4 billion:

Currently, 4 States receive over 78 percent of the total 50/50 match funding for state provided training, including New York (36 percent), California (20.2 percent), Pennsylvania (12.4 percent), and New Jersey (9.7 percent). This optional 50/50 federal match is uncapped, and can be used by States to provide reimbursement for participants' expenses. This includes union dues, test fees, clothing and tools required for the job, relocation expenses, licensing and bonding fees, transportation, and child care. Elimination of these funds does not affect SNAP benefits to recipients;

Eliminating the Nutrition Education Grant Program, Saves $4.4 billion:

A number of other existing nutrition education programs are delivered through at least six federal programs administered by the USDA, NIH, and Land Grant University Extension Programs. In practice, the SNAP Nutrition Education program is inequitably distributed with the top four States receiving over 54 percent of the funding, while the bottom 33 State agencies each receive less than 1 percent of total funding. Eliminating this duplicative program would not affect SNAP food benefits.




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