The House Agriculture Committee approved a five-year farm and nutrition bill this morning that included an amendment, offered by Representative Martha Roby, to prevent illegal aliens from fraudulently obtaining federally subsidized food stamps.
Roby's amendment would require that states use E-Verify-like systems to validate applicants' eligibility to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. The verification systems, such as one called the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements Program (SAVE), would electronically check employment and income records to ensure that adults receiving federal benefits are legal U.S. residents. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the amendment would result in significant savings for U.S. taxpayers. Roby's amendment passed the Committee with strong bi-partisan support and was accepted by and voted favorably by the House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin C. Peterson (D-Minn).
"Currently, state agencies merely accept applicants' declarations of U.S. citizenship at face value. This encourages fraudulent practices, such that applicants here illegally are providing false social security numbers and receiving government issued benefits," said Rep. Roby. "Fixing this problem is one of many steps that we must take to address our illegal immigration problem and restore lawfulness to our immigration system."
Under current rules, applicants for SNAP benefits must declare that they are either a U.S. citizen or an eligible alien. A recent report completed by the Office of the Inspector General of the USDA sampled five states and found that, under the current system, 8,594 recipients of SNAP assistance were receiving benefits under potentially invalid Social Security numbers.
"Benefits funded by American taxpayers should go to American citizens. It is reasonable to require that an individual be a U.S. citizen or an eligible applicant in order to receive federal benefits," Roby said. "Under my amendment, state agencies must verify applicants' status using SAVE or another verification program to ensure that recipients of these benefits go to legal U.S. residents. The amendment would result in government savings while ensuring that only qualified applicants receive necessary benefits."
"Taking three to five seconds to verify the eligibility of an applicant could reduce the instances of improper SNAP payments. By requiring electronic verification of immigration status, state agencies will be less likely to improperly issue SNAP benefits to individuals that are not lawfully in the country," said Roby.
Roby introduced two other amendments during the 15-hour mark-up of the Farm Bill. The first would close a current loophole by requiring SNAP recipients to provide actual proof of payment of heating and cooling costs in order to qualify for a standard utility allowance. CBO estimates that the resulting savings would top $9 billion over 10 years. A second amendment would eliminate a federal regulation requiring local water and sewer utilities to issue costly, unnecessary, and duplicative written notices to its customers. Though the Committee failed to accept these provisions, Roby indicated that she might reintroduce the amendments during future House consideration of the farm bill.
The underlying legislation also includes provisions, included at Roby's urging, that would provide a reasonable and cost-effective safety net for peanut farmers. Throughout her first term in Congress, Roby hosted numerous public discussions with local peanut producers and drew policy ideas from her 24-member Agricultural Advisory Panel.
Additionally, earlier this year Roby revived the Congressional Peanut Caucus to ensure a unified voice in Congress on all issues related to peanuts and their effect on our nation's agriculture industry. In preparation of the Farm Bill, this Caucus served as a working group for peanut states and a facilitator of communication between Congressional offices.
H.R. 6083, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2012 (FARRM), cleared the House Agriculture Committee this morning by a vote of 35-11.