Last night, U.S. Representative Tom Marino (PA-10) introduced the SNAP Transparency Act of 2013. This legislation establishes a system to report items purchased with SNAP benefits -- formerly known as food stamps -- and requires the Secretary of Agriculture to publish the information online in a searchable, comparable format.
"My bill represents a common-sense way to crack down on waste and fraud in a government program that has ballooned in costs in recent years, and it will finally allow taxpayers to know how their money is being spent. The American people deserve to know how their hard-earned tax dollars are being spent, and yet there is little transparency in this massive government program," said Marino.
The federal government currently provides food stamps to roughly 1 in 7 Americans. In 2012 alone, this program cost taxpayers over $80 billion, and over the next 10 years, the Congressional Budget Office estimates costs will total $760 billion.
The federal government initially kept records of food stamp purchases, but lacking the appropriate technology, failed to keep up with paper records, and caused the federal government to eliminate this reporting system in the 1960s.
"SNAP is a perfect example of how our government spends too much money with too little oversight and accountability," said Marino. "Even though Congress established parameters for the program and designated what foods are eligible under SNAP, Congress has virtually no information to ensure that the program is operating effectively."
Marino added, "What was initially intended to be a supplemental resource to give low-income families access to nutritious and healthy food, has been greatly expanded into a massive program with a high potential for fraud and abuse. In my district, there is a necessity for programs like SNAP and WIC for families that are truly in need, but when the system is abused and taken advantage of, those families truly in need are left to suffer."
Stores and retailers currently participating in SNAP are already required through language passed in the 2008 Farm Bill to maintain a record of all SNAP transactions for at least three years. However, these records are only used for investigative purposes, not for oversight.
"The SNAP Transparency Act simply expands the purposes for which records already kept can be used. SNAP is an entirely voluntary program for these retailers, but as long as they participate, they must help to ensure the program is transparent and efficient," Marino said.
The SNAP Transparency Act requires the Secretary of Agriculture to compile an online, searchable database of the aggregate total of each specific item purchased with SNAP benefits and the aggregate cost of those items. If retailers choose to participate in SNAP, they would have to agree to report any items purchased with SNAP benefits to the USDA upon enactment of this legislation.