WASHINGTON, July 25, 2014 – A House Agriculture subcommittee on Thursday heard witnesses describe the important role played by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in fighting hunger. But several said the program is badly in need of reform.

Sidonie Squier, secretary of New Mexico’s Department of Human, Services, told the panel, headed by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that while SNAP was started with a noble aim -- to ensure individuals with the very lowest incomes had enough to eat – the program “has strayed from this earlier worthwhile purpose.”

In her prepared testimony, Squier noted that in 2001, one out of every 14 U.S. households received Food Stamps, the precursor to SNAP.

“But in just a little more than a decade, one in five American households has now become dependent on taxpayer funded food assistance,” she said And she asked skeptically: “Is it likely that the proportion of American households unable to afford the purchase of sufficient food has increased more than threefold during that period?”

Squier acknowledged that the recent recession has had a role in the increase in SNAP participation – about 47 million Americans now receive benefits each month. But she said more significant factors are changes in federal policy, including “aggressive federal pressure on states to recruit additional beneficiaries, combined with the loosening of eligibility rules.” She called for elimination or tightening of some of these policies.

A second witness, Robert Doar, the Morgridge Fellow in Poverty Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, agreed that the recent growth in the program was due to the weak economy and changes in government policies.

But Doar, a former commissioner of the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, responsible for oversight of SNAP, said the numbers of participants should have fallen by now as the economy improved.

“Today, five years after the official end of the recession, the number of SNAP recipients has not fallen at the rate that would normally be expected,” he said in his prepared testimony. And he said that a “remarkably high number of nonelderly, nondisabled SNAP recipients are not reporting earnings from work and are not facing any effective work requirement associated with SNAP.”

The lone witness to defend the program wholeheartedly was Stacy Dean, vice president for Food Assistance Policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C.

“SNAP is an efficient and effective program,” she said at the conclusion of a 19-page paper she presented in support of the federal initiative. “It alleviates hunger and has long-term outcomes on those who receive its benefits.”

At the outset of the hearing, King said both Republicans and Democrats agree on the importance of SNAP in helping those in need.

"However with soaring deficits and an out-of-control national debt, we must be mindful of this grave fiscal situation." he said. "We, as Members of Congress, have a responsibility to the American people to oversee federal programs paid for by the taxpayer to ensure that they are operating in the most-efficient, cost-effective manner.

Most House Republicans voted for steep cuts in SNAP in the negotiations for the 2014 Farm Bill.

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