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  • How to Reform Food Stamps—and Improve the Farm Bill

    The farm bill is currently making its way through the Senate amidst heated debate. But don’t let the title fool you. Nearly 80 percent—of the bill’s spending goes toward the nation’s fastest growing welfare program: food stamps.

    Since 2000, the cost of food stamps (now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) has nearly quadrupled, with much of that growth taking place over the last four years. But as large as the program is, it’s only part of a federal welfare system consisting of roughly 70 programs costing taxpayers nearly $1 trillion annually.

    Earlier this month, Senators Rand Paul (R–KY) and Jim Inhofe (R–OK) introduced an amendment to the farm bill (subsequently voted down) to scale back the skyrocketing costs of food stamps—costs that have outpaced the increase in participation rates. Senator Jeff Sessions (R–AL) introduced another amendment (also voted down) that would eliminate loopholes that allow states to boost their food stamp roles.

    Stemming the rising cost of the food stamps program and eliminating loopholes are both crucial steps in restoring fiscal sanity to the program. But such reforms must be coupled with those that promote personal responsibility through work.

    “Food stamps is an old and fossilized program,” say The Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector and Katherine Bradley in a forthcoming paper. “Aside from enormous increases in cost, food stamps has remained basically unchanged since its creation in the 1960s.… It remains a program that discourages work, rewards idleness, and promotes long-term dependence.”

    The best course of action to reduce spending, explain Rector and Bradley, would be to roll back food stamp spending to pre-recession levels once the economy recovers, or by 2013. “In subsequent years, the maximum allocation to states should grow no faster than inflation and population growth, although temporary increases above that maximum could be permitted in periods of high unemployment,” they add.

    Additionally, instead of recruiting participants, as current policies encourage, “there should be an effort to return food stamp caseloads to normal, pre-recession levels or to the even lower levels that occurred during the Clinton presidency.”

    When the program began in the 1960s, roughly one in 20 Americans participated. Today, that number is about one in seven.

    Part of the recent growth in program participation is due to policies that make it easier for individuals to enroll in the program and remain on the rolls. “Application loopholes that permit food stamp recipients to bypass income and asset tests,” note Rector and Bradley, contribute to this problem and should be eliminated.

    Perhaps most critical to reform is restructuring food stamps to a program that encourages self-reliance through work. Going forward, all able-bodied recipients should be required “to work, prepare for work, or at least look for a job as a condition of receiving aid.”

    Additionally, reforms that require participants to receive a drug test prior to receiving aid are an important step in promoting greater personal responsibility among recipients.

    The welfare reforms of 1996, which inserted work requirements into the largest cash assistance welfare program, succeeded in helping individuals move from welfare to work. As a result, millions of Americans left welfare for jobs, and the child poverty rate dropped substantially. The food stamps program can similarly be transformed into one that helps individuals transition back to self-reliance.

    Posted in Economics [slideshow_deploy]

    10 Responses to How to Reform Food Stamps—and Improve the Farm Bill

    1. NewsView says:

      A worldwide recession and unemployment levels that remain historically high in the US seemingly explain the growing demand for food stamps. I feel it is politically out of touch to clamp down on a program whose need has clearly been reinforced by systemic job loss. Rather than address root causes the farm bill seeks to mask symptoms. This piece lacks credibility in that it rests on classist assumptions about the perceived desire of the poor to remain poor and unabashedly so. What we need is economic leadership to make job training and retraining accessible to an increasingly white collar professional segment of the population whose jobs have been threatened by tax, trade and technology itself. The apparent dependence of the poor on safety nets is evidence of a lack of leadership at a variety of levels in society. Politicians are not self reliant either; their careers, pensions and healthcare costs come at taxpayer expense. Perhaps they too should "share the pain". I would like to see those who wish to slash SNAP try to get by on an equivalent amount for a month to see if it goes as far as they presume to eliminate need, let alone the incentive to earn more to eat better. Reform of the safety nets is not a bad thing but this is a bad time, and a tone deaf election year issue at that. There are many areas of the budget that can be trimmed before we ask the weakest links in society to pay for years of deficit spending in Washington DC.

      • Bobbie says:

        and while the growing job loss due to unconstitutional acts with the widening of government qualifications to include no background checks to receive food stamps expanded government dependency by design. Nothing is '"politically out of touch" if it's controlled by government and paid by tax payers. The root of self reliance is personal responsibility to provide for ones own motivating employment. I agree the unconstitutional government safety nets for the poor is evident of the lack of respect in leadership at all levels, devising more programs that discourages people to be self reliant and builds government control. SNAP is one program of a variety. Many people on one take advantage of as many as they can. Fraud is everywhere with cuts necessary. Background checks have to be routine. All recipients should be under strict and equal qualifications with no preferential benefits in recognition of race, creed and or culture with only ONE government food program LOGICALLY resulting in the personal dignity of self reliance…

    2. Sanjay says:

      When will heritage cut food stamps for the federal reserve and military security complex?

      Hypocrisy of these think tanks go on forever. Open border, cheap labor for GOP, cheap votes for Democrats.

      • Bobbie says:

        Heritage? how about the government accountable? the government outside your control are the ones you have no choice in paying for, corrupting America's money and their duty, daily!

    3. Patricia says:

      According to Peter Edelman, Georgetown University Law Center Professor. He worked with RFK on poverty issues and resigned from the Clinton Administration as a protest over the Personal Responsibility & Work Opportunity Act of 1996. In his book – So Rich So Poor Why It's So Hard To End Poverty In America – Children are the litmus tests they make up the bulk of people on food stamps. The tone of your article suggests that people on food stamps are just there because they are lazy and don't want to work. You never mentioned that Wall Street and the Mortgage Lending Banks disportionately targeted Blacks and Latinos for predatory sub-prime mortgages and these people lost their homes because of it. And that the wealth of most of these people was tied up in their homes and that is the reason for the increase in the food stamp roles.

      • saveamerica says:

        What do you mean wall street and mortgage lending banks disproportionately "targeted" blacks and latinos? Targeted for what? Are you saying rules and purchase deals aren't the same for everyone equally when participation is a major effect to everyone's economy ?

    4. Patricia says:

      . You also didn't mention America has adopted a low-wage economy since the 70s, there has been an unprecedented resurgence of income inequality, 20.5 million people lived in extreme poverty in 2010, 6 million have no other income besides food stamps, and that in no state in the country can a worker on federal minimum wage afford to pay rent for a single or two BDR apartment. I didn't hear you mention improving the quality of employment – paying a living wage and addressing family issues that hinder working like child care for the millions of children on food stamps while their mothers take "personal responsibility" and work. I didn't hear you mention the policies that were enacted by Conservatives that hurt the middle class, the poor, and anyone that is non-white just so that the Plutocrats can make their profits. Where is your mouth almighty against the Big Banks, Big Oil, Big Corporations, and Big Health Insurance Companies that walk away with Billions of your tax dollars? Where is your outcry then, Rachel Sheffield?

      • saveamerica says:

        People that have low wage jobs build their ambitions to set higher goals on their own. The American way, not the government way.
        Unless you're talking about people that are unfairly taxed who take no welfare or any government handouts, there's no such thing as "extreme poverty" in America.
        Maybe federal workers could rent together until they motivate themselves to find better paying jobs to earn a better living? America needs permanent livable wage jobs where a person can meet ones ambitions that excel ones wage. Many went overseas because of government intervention.

    5. Patricia says:

      No you are worried about the "black girl" who gets about $200 per month in food stamps to feed her family. Incidentally, there are more whites on food stamps than Blacks. Peter Edelman was on the Melissa Harris-Perry show this morning speaking on this very subject he says that the Welfare Reform act by Clinton signed in 1996 destroyed the safety net, increased poverty, lowered income for single mothers, sent people from welfare to homeless shelters, and allowed states to be free to eliminate the program altogether — it moved recipients from welfare to work but the jobs they got weren't enough to survive on and candidates like Michelle Bachman want to abolish the minimum wage? Rachel Sheffield this country has a moral obligation to protect the poor — it is a disgrace if anyone especially children are allowed to go hungry in this country.

      • saveamerica says:

        It's a worry and great concern anyone is on food stamps due to the overreach of government. It's indignant to have to depend on government to provide for ones own. But when government forces… where's the father of these children? How come you don't mention him? People learn from their personal doings when they take personal responsibility for them. Without government dependency, self reliance, personal reliances (family, etc) establishes that builds positive qualities in human endurance, self esteem, inner strength, personal freedom, etc. It comes in all skin colors! Human skin colors!
        America's business owners should be the one to set the wage. It opens people's choices and motivates abilities. America should be with the least amount of government as a personally responsible country she was close to becoming. FREE!

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