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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. ROBERTS. Mr. President, my colleagues, I rise today to introduce a bill that has a long title: Improve Nutrition Program Integrity and Deficit Reduction Act of 2013. Big title, but it is a good bill.

Last June, I stood in this body, along with Chairperson Stabenow of the Agriculture Committee, to encourage my colleagues to pass bipartisan reform legislation known as the farm bill.

The legislation we put together in the Senate Agriculture Committee would have strengthened and preserved the safety net for our farmers and ranchers while also being responsible to taxpayers by providing billions of dollars for deficit reduction. At the time we were told by the Congressional Budget Office, the CBO, that the farm bill passed by the Agriculture Committee, one of the first bills, by the way, that we were able to pass under regular order and in record amount of time, 2 1/2 days--the CBO estimated at that time the farm bill that was passed by the Agriculture Committee in the Senate would save $24 billion over 10 years, including $4 billion from the nutrition title.

However, according to the latest CBO projections, a projection that has reverberated in farm country, released just last Friday, the farm bill we passed last year would now only save $13 billion and no longer represents savings in the nutrition title. We could have done more last year, and we must do more this year to rein in the largest expenditure within the Department of Agriculture budget.

No, it does not go to farmers. We are talking about specifically the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, called SNAP, more commonly known as food stamps.

In the context of sequestration, SNAP was exempted from any across-the-board cuts, along with Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. It was in that pasture. A lot of other things were in different pastures, especially national security.

However, it is clear there are several areas within the program that could provide significant savings that were, unfortunately, left untouched. The legislation I introduce today, along with Senator Johanns and Senator Thune, builds off of several amendments previously offered in a piecemeal fashion. We have wrapped them all together. Each should be enacted, but combined in this bill they represent over $36 billion in savings.

By eliminating loopholes, duplicative programs, unnecessary bonuses, inflation adjustments, and restricting lottery winners from receiving benefits, this legislation will instill and restore integrity to SNAP while still providing benefits to those truly in need. I ought to repeat that this restores integrity to SNAP while still providing benefits to those truly in need.

I am not proposing a dramatic change in the policy of nutrition programs. Instead, this legislation enforces the principles of good government and returns SNAP spending to much more responsible levels. While saving over $36 billion, our legislation also makes commonsense and comprehensive reforms to SNAP, the Food Stamp Program, that can and should be enacted immediately.

Over one-half of the SNAP food benefits in our country are utilized by households with children, and SNAP can play, and does play, a critical role in helping people put food on the table in times of need. However, at least 17 States, I am sorry to report, 17 States are gaming the system by designing their Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program--the acronym for that is LIHEAP, a very commonly used term with regards to nutrition programs and the energy programs. But these 17 States designed their programs to exploit the Food Stamp Program. This is not right. It is not right.

The LIHEAP loophole works like this: A participating State agency annually issues extremely low LIHEAP benefits to qualify otherwise ineligible households for standard utility allowances, which then result in increased monthly food stamp benefits. For example, today a State agency can issue only $1 annually in LIHEAP benefits to increase monthly food stamp benefits on an average of $90 a month. That is $1,080 per year for households that do not otherwise pay out-of-pocket utility bills.

That is not right. Last year the Senate farm bill included a provision to tighten the LIHEAP loophole. Even though it would only reduce the loophole, it set the minimum qualifying LIHEAP benefit at $10 annually--not $1, $10. At the time it would have saved taxpayers nearly $450 million every year for a total of $4 billion over a 10-year period.

Completely eliminating the LIHEAP loophole, as my legislation does, will save taxpayers $12 billion. Let me be very clear about it. Eliminating the LIHEAP loophole does not affect SNAP eligibility for anyone using the Food Stamp Program. Eliminating the LIHEAP loophole would only decrease SNAP benefits for those who would not otherwise qualify for the higher SNAP benefits, the food stamp benefits.

Let me point out another area that must be reformed: States using categorical eligibility for automatic eligibility to provide food stamp benefits. Categorical eligibility is simply known as Cat-El. It was designed to help streamline the administration of SNAP by allowing households to be certified as eligible for the food stamp benefits and be certified without evaluating household assets or gross income, a previous requirement.

Now, 42 States, unfortunately--I do not like to report these kinds of things. However, 42 States are exploiting an unintended loophole of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Program and simply provided informational brochures and informational 1-800 numbers to maximize the food stamp enrollment and the corresponding increase in Federal food benefits.

These States are gaming the system to bring otherwise ineligible SNAP participants into the program. My legislation ties categorical eligibility to cash assistance, thereby eliminating this loophole. That saves taxpayers $11.5 billion, a lot of money. To be clear, this represents a cut to SNAP food benefits. However, this amount represents the amount of benefits to people who would not otherwise be eligible for these benefits were it not for States gaming the system.

In an ongoing effort to streamline government programs and reduce redundancy and taxpayer spending, we should also look at the unnecessary spending in Federal employment and training programs. According to a GAO report last year, there are currently 47 such programs that annually cost $18 billion. Let me repeat that. There are 47 programs annually costing $18 billion--Federal employment and training programs.

Nobody would object to a Federal employment and training program given the problems we have with our country. But 47, according to a GAO report, $18 billion. Eliminating the duplicative SNAP employment and training programs would save more than $4 billion and would not affect SNAP food benefits. I repeat. This provision of this legislation would not cut the buying power of any food stamp household to put food in their refrigerators and also their kitchen cupboards.

What am I talking about? In addition to the base program funding that we are talking about with employment and training help, States have the option of providing their own funding to their State education and training program. Then the Department of Agriculture is required to match that.

Currently, four States receive over 80 percent of the total 50-50 match funding. Four States, 80 percent? What about the rest of the States? They include New York, California, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. New York, 36, 37, percent; California, 21 percent; Pennsylvania, about 13 percent; New Jersey, about 10.

This optional 50-50 Federal match is uncapped. It can be used by States to provide reimbursement for participant expenses in regard to education and training that are deemed reasonable and necessary. But somebody has to define ``reasonable and necessary.'' The following items have come under ``reasonable and necessary,'' especially in these four States: union dues, test fees, clothing and tools required for the job, relocation expenses, licensing, bonding fees, transportation, childcare, tennis lessons. I made that up. I thought it would catch your attention, Mr. President. No, there are no tennis lessons. There might be, could be. But at least in regards to this reform, let's go to another provision of my legislation.

It ends the USDA practice of giving $48 million in awards every year to State agencies for basically doing their job to ensure proper use of the American tax dollar. Currently, bonuses are given to States for ``best program access,'' signing up as many people for food stamps as possible. ``Most improved program access.'' How many more people signed up for SNAP compared to the previous year? So if you sign up more people then you signed up last year, well, you get an award. ``Best application timeliness.'' That is handling applications within the required guidelines, and we are getting a benefit from that.

State agencies are rewarded for performing the minimum expectations for stewardship of the Food Stamp Program and also of the American tax dollar. The bonuses are not even required to be used for food stamp administration. A recipient State may choose the funding for any State priority. So we are talking about $48 million.

That goes to State agencies of these four Oscar Awards in regard to food stamps, but they can use the funding for anything, for any State priority. Eliminating these unnecessary State bonuses will save taxpayers, over 10 years, $480 million.

Another area where my legislation streamlines government programs is through the elimination of the SNAP Nutrition Education Grant Program. A number of existing nutrition education programs are delivered more equitably with a cost-benefit ratio that makes more sense, at least six Federal programs administered by the Department of Agriculture and the National Institutes of Health and Land Grant University Extension Programs.

In practice, the SNAP Nutrition Education Program is inequitably distributed with the top four States--here we go again--receiving over 54 percent of the funding. The bottom 33 State agencies receive less than 1 percent of the total funding. That is not right.

Additionally our bill ends inflation adjustments for countable resources and for emergency food assistance, saving over $600 million.

The legislation also terminates the ongoing stimulus of several years ago enacted by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which provided extra funding to increase monthly SNAP food benefits.

Finally, the legislation does prohibit lottery winners--Senator Stabenow insisted on this in the last farm bill and it makes a lot of sense--from receiving SNAP benefits and keeps them from receiving new benefits if they do not meet the financial requirements of SNAP.

Overall, by eliminating several duplicative programs, closing loopholes, and ending unnecessary spending, the Improve Nutrition Program Integrity and Deficit Reduction Act will save taxpayers over $36 billion, the latest score by the CBO.

I understand the importance of domestic food assistance programs for many hard-working Americans, including many Kansans. I know that. In 1996, when I was chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, there was an effort to send the Food Stamp Program back to the States--and the Governors wanted it. They wanted the money, they didn't want the food stamps. We made an effort under a very historic farm bill at that time not only to save and reform but restore integrity to the Food Stamp Program. We have another opportunity right now. I do understand the importance of domestic food assistance programs for many hard-working Americans and Kansans.

My goal is very simple, again restoring integrity to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in a commonsense and comprehensive manner. Enacting this package of reforms will allow the Federal Government to continue to help those who truly need SNAP food benefits and assistance.

Again, I thank Senators THUNE and JOHANNS for their assistance in this effort. I look forward to working with my colleagues to enact these reforms for the benefit of all Americans.

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