Recent proposals in Congress include a bill that would crack down on fraud and abuse within the $70-billion dollar government food stamp program (officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP).
This is just one area on which lawmakers are focusing in the desperate need for budget cuts following the fiscal cliff and government shutdown. While the proposed cuts would save a mere $22 million, just a drop in the bucket of the billions that Congress needs to cut, it would still be a step in the direction of welfare reform. Many consider this to be long overdue, while some are outraged at the potential harm to the neediest members of our society.
The History of Food Stamps
The food stamp program, which has been in existence in some form since 1939, provides monthly funds designated for food purchases to qualifying families. Instead of stamps or coupons, most states now utilize EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) cards. Since 2007, the number of Americans receiving food stamps has increased 70%, rising to over 44 million people — nearly 15% of the population.
Abusing the System
While some lawmakers are pushing for reform of the eligibility requirements, the main focus of the proposed bill is cutting out fraud and abuses in the system. Some ways people can abuse the system include: asking for multiple replacement cards, receiving benefits from different states or under different names, using stolen identities for benefits, and, as was recently displayed during the shutdown, taking advantage of EBT glitches that inflate spending limits.
The investigation that led to to the bill revealed that one of the largest abuses is by retailers. Some smaller privately-owned businesses have been using food stamp benefits to barter for items such as drugs and firearms. The bill proposes that the federal government work more closely with state agencies to identify and stop fraud and abuse among these small businesses.
Two Sides of the Fence
There are, as usual, two very strong opinions on SNAP reform. In general, Democrats oppose cuts to the food stamp program, insisting that a balanced budget isn’t worth increasing the burden on a part of society that’s already struggling. Most Republicans want to reform SNAP and other welfare programs so that citizens are motivated to eliminate their dependance on government subsidies.
In my opinion, a decrease in government-provided benefits may bolster support for and involvement with private organizations that do the same thing (in many cases, much more efficiently and personally).
Whatever side you’re on, you should keep your eyes on this H.R. 3102 in the following months. It’ll be interesting to see what lawmakers decide to do about food stamp reform as part of their grander efforts to cut federal spending.
What do you think about food stamp reform? Is it unethical or overdue?