House Ag Subcommittee reviews the SNAP food stamp program, considers improvements

By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, July 28 – Pointing to low error rates and high need as recession-fed hunger continues, James Weill, President of the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), recommends a range of improvements for the food stamp program. In his testimony in a House Agriculture Subcommittee hearing Wednesday on the federal program now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Weill called on Congress to:

  • “extend the program to needy people now excluded from benefits by arbitrary eligibility rules, including by restoring eligibility to all legal immigrants, dropping the lifetime ban on benefits for drug felons who are making a new start in society, and removing time limits on receipt of SNAP by certain jobless adults seeking work;”

  • “allow all states to operate the SSI CAP model that seamlessly enrolls SSI recipients into SNAP, and encourage other data matching initiatives;”

  • “provide adequate resources to states and community partners for administration of SNAP and outreach and nutrition education [to] include restoring a greater federal share in administrative expenses and enhanced federal matches for state investments in operational improvements; and,”

  • “promote increased access by low-income people to nutritious food in neighborhoods, including by fostering development of supermarkets and outlets in 'food deserts,' and by equipping all farmers’ markets with EBT capability.”

Weill pointed out that “In April, the latest month for which there are data, there were more than 40.4 million SNAP/food stamp recipients, compared to 28.2 million two years earlier.” He said that along with fighting hunger, ”SNAP also boosts the economy. Dollar-for-dollar, it is almost certainly the strongest countercyclical program the nation has. The money goes to very needy people who have trouble paying their food and other bills, and who therefore spend these funds quickly, so that they go immediately into the economy with very positive multiplier effects. Based on USDA research, every federal SNAP dollar generates nearly twice that in economic activity.”

Weill also noted that USDA reports show that “SNAP benefits comprise nearly 24 percent of the monthly funds available to the typical SNAP household.” He said that unfortunately, there is a public misperception that the SNAP program suffers from significant fraud. On the contrary, he said, “almost all clients who receive SNAP benefits are eligible for some amount, so that even many QC-countable errors that favor clients are simply computational errors in benefits to eligible people.” He said that for fiscal 2009, “98.59 percent of SNAP cases were eligible for a benefit. The percentage of benefit dollars that went to eligible people was even higher, 98.81 percent.”

Congressman Joe Baca (D-CA), Chair of the House Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry, held the hearing to review SNAP's quality control systems. The Subcommittee heard testimony from government officials and advocacy and industry groups about efforts to reduce the error rate in the SNAP program and to combat fraud and abuse in the system.

“In these tough economic times, it is essential that Congress ensures our federal nutrition programs serve as good stewards of taxpayer dollars. Today's hearing provided an excellent opportunity to examine ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the SNAP program. With the program currently under great strain, serving a record 40 million Americans a month, this review is more critical now than ever before,” Baca said.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) commented that “The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program has done much to help many Americans access food supplies for themselves and their families in times of difficulty, and it is important to maintain the integrity of this program. Like all federal programs funded by American taxpayers, we must ensure its sound program eligibility standards and improve efficiencies in its administration. I was pleased to hear from our witnesses about how quality control measures have been operating and how we can further improve SNAP.”

The 2008 Farm Bill made substantial improvements to the SNAP program by increasing program benefits and clarifying eligibility standards. The Farm Bill also increased the penalty the USDA can levy on fraudulent retailers.

To read written testimony from the SNAP hearing, go to:

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