Senators John Thune (R-S.D.), Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee, today sent a letter to Wendy Spencer, Chief Executive Officer of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), a government entity responsible for matching volunteers with local community service organizations. The letter outlines Thune and Sessions' concerns that current CNCS policies and promotional materials may encourage the exploitation of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, commonly known as food stamps, by paid CNCS' volunteers.
Under current law, interested participants who were receiving SNAP benefits prior to entering the CNCS volunteer program remain eligible to receive SNAP benefits even while receiving their taxpayer-funded CNCS volunteer stipend. The provision was designed to ensure that program participants would not have to choose between volunteering with CNCS and retaining their SNAP benefits. However, the use of this provision seems to have grown and has raised questions about whether CNCS actively played a role promoting the exploitation of this provision in order to allow program participants to double-dip into both the taxpayer-funded CNCS stipend and SNAP benefits. Because it is impossible to determine the amount of taxpayer dollars that are being used for SNAP benefits by CNCS volunteers, Thune and Sessions believe understanding the true cost of the CNCS programs involves looking deeper into the program, such as hidden costs like SNAP utilization amongst CNCS volunteers.
"The role of the SNAP program isn't to provide additional money to paid government volunteers; it is to help feed hungry American families," said Thune. "It appears that a significant number of CNCS volunteers are taking advantage of a special provision that was included by Congress to ensure that potential volunteers would not rule-out program participation due to fear of losing food stamp benefits, not to encourage volunteers to game the SNAP program. Given the strong desires to curb federal spending and cut waste, fraud, and abuse, we expect CNCS to respond to our questions without delay."
"The food stamp budget has quadrupled over the past decade, thanks in good measure to active promotional efforts by the USDA that encourage food stamp use even when the recipient says they don't need it," said Sessions. "But now we've learned that a separate government agency--whose mission is to encourage volunteerism and community service--is using a loophole to further expand welfare enrollment without regard to need or qualification. The agency's apparent encouragement to misuse these programs explains how we can spend so much money on welfare--equivalent to $60,000 for every household living beneath the poverty line--while failing to accomplish the goal of reducing poverty and expanding upward mobility. True compassion requires we reform this broken program."
The Senators' letter requests that CNCS provide their offices with answers to several questions about the use of SNAP benefits by CNCS volunteers, and provide relevant documents regarding the recruitment and regulation of volunteers that mention the SNAP program.