By Senator John Thune
Since President Obama took office in 2009, an additional 15 million Americans have been added to the food stamp rolls. This trend has continued despite economic indicators coming from his administration that suggest the number of Americans out of work and enrolling in government safety net programs should be on the decline.
The most recent food stamp participation numbers paint a very troubling picture of the U.S. economy. According to the latest statistics released on January 4, 2013, by the Department of Agriculture, the number of Americans enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly referred to as food stamps, has spiked to nearly 48 million people, or nearly 15 percent of the U.S. population. Food stamp enrollment has increased by more than 607,000 just since the last report was published in December of 2012.
The enrollment of such a large number of Americans in the food stamp program has come at an extremely high cost to taxpayers. Last year alone the U.S. government spent a record $80.4 billion on food stamps, and is projected to spend an estimated $770 billion over the next 10 years.
With nearly one out of every seven people using food stamps, lawmakers should be carefully reviewing the rapid increase in enrollment and finding answers to important questions, such as: are these benefits being provided to those who need it most; should the list of eligible food stamp products be modified; and does this program encourage independence or does it instead create an ongoing dependency on government programs?
In December of 2012, I sent a letter along with Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to Wendy Spencer, Chief Executive Officer for the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), a government entity responsible for matching government paid volunteers with local community service organizations. Our letter outlined our concerns that current CNCS policies and promotional materials may be encouraging the exploitation of food stamps by paid CNCS volunteers, resulting in unnecessary food stamp participation. While this is just one example of the fraud and abuse that plagues this system, if a federal agency such as CNCS is able to exploit the benefits of another federal program, it is difficult to predict just how far and widespread fraud and abuse may reach.
It is time for Congress to engage in a meaningful discussion about how to best reduce poverty and expand upward mobility for all Americans, and take decisive action to achieve this goal. Congress must strike a balance to ensure that we protect our country's most vulnerable and those who legitimately need assistance while also cutting federal spending, reprioritizing federal programs, and eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse. As Congress prepares to address our nation's overall federal spending, I will continue to advocate for common-sense reforms to our nation's safety net programs that will improve America's social, fiscal, and economic health.