Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kan., this week introduced legislation to restore integrity to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, to save $36 billion in taxpayer dollars while ensuring those in need still receive benefits.
His efforts follow recent USDA announcements that the agency would renew a push to cut SNAP fraud. In FY 2011, the program provided a total of $71.8 billion in food benefits to an average of 44.7 million people per month. Funding for the program is not affected by the sequester.
"Times are tough right now for millions of Americans and government spending is out of control. We need to ensure that precious taxpayer dollars are getting to those in the greatest need," Roberts said.
Roberts' bill includes reforms that have garnered bipartisan support in the past to address, waste, fraud and abuse. It would eliminate loopholes, duplicative programs, unnecessary bonuses, and restrict lottery winners from receiving benefits.
"We can and should restore integrity to SNAP for those who rely on it while being more responsible to the taxpayer – and we can achieve billions in real savings without ever affecting food on the table," Roberts added.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, Sen. Roberts' bill, the "Improve Nutrition Program Integrity and Deficit Reduction Act," will save the taxpayer more than $36 billion over 10 years.
In a press call, Roberts said many of the cuts offered in the bill enjoyed bipartisan support during talks on the 2012 Farm Bill.
"When we debated and passed the Senate farm bill, I said there were more savings we could find in the nutrition title, and this bill certainly represents that unfinished business," Roberts said.
Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and Johanns, R-Neb., also support the bill.
Bill offers several key provisions
Roberts says the bill is "commonsense" and "straightforward." Some of the key provisions in the bill include:
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
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
Currently, States can automatically enroll recipients of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program in SNAP. Roberts says states are exploiting this provision by providing minimal TANF assistance to recipients in the form of informational brochures that make them eligible for SNAP benefits. The Roberts bill ties automatic SNAP eligibility to TANF cash assistance only.
Eliminating Home Energy Loophole
This provision closes a loophole in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Seventeen states offer a nominal amount, (e.g. $1) in LIHEAP benefits to expand SNAP participation and benefit levels.
Eliminating Duplicative Training Programs
Currently, four States receive over 78% of the total 50/50 match funding for state provided training. 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
The SNAP Nutrition Education program is inequitably distributed with the top four States receiving over 54% of the funding, while the bottom 33 State agencies each receive less than 1% of total funding. Eliminating this duplicative program would not affect SNAP food benefits.
Click here to read the full bill language.