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Public Statements

Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 - Continued

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. ROBERTS. Mr. President, this is Roberts amendment No. 948. This amendment would help rein in the largest expenditure within the Department of Agriculture budget--the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP, more commonly known as food stamps.

The Senate Agriculture Committee included minimal savings under food stamps--around $4 billion over the 10-year budget window. I know people have different views, but I would say that it is certainly minimal. I think we could have done more in committee last week. I introduced an amendment at that time. I withdrew it to make sure we could get this to the floor. We must do much more in a responsible manner. Look at the House Agriculture Committee, which marked up a farm bill with over $20 billion in savings from SNAP. That bill was marked up and passed with bipartisan support as of last week.

We can restore integrity to the program while providing benefits to those truly in need and save approximately an additional $30 billion. Note that I say ``while providing benefits to those truly in need.'' I am not proposing a dramatic change in the policy of nutrition programs, such as block-granting programs to States. That would represent a dramatic change. Instead, this amendment enforces the principles of good government and restores SNAP and spending to much more responsible levels.

Also, SNAP was exempted from the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration. However, it is clear there are several areas within the program that could provide significant savings that were left untouched.

First, the amendment eliminates the LIHEAP loophole. Let me be clear. Eliminating the LIHEAP loophole does not affect SNAP eligibility for anyone using SNAP; it only decreases SNAP benefits for those who would not otherwise qualify for the higher SNAP benefit amounts.

But at least 17 States, with all due respect, are gaming the system by designing their Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program--LIHEAP--to exploit SNAP. Let me explain. The LIHEAP loophole works like this: Participating State agencies annually issue extremely low LIHEAP benefits to qualify otherwise ineligible households for standard utility allowances, which result in increased monthly SNAP benefits. For example, today a State agency can issue $1--only $1--annually in LIHEAP benefits to increase monthly SNAP benefits an average of $90--that is $1,080 per year--for households that do not otherwise pay out-of-pocket utility bills.

If you completely eliminate the LIHEAP loophole, as my legislation does, it will save taxpayers a total of $12 billion--$8 billion additional compared to the current version of the farm bill.

We also tie categorical eligibility to cash assistance, eliminating a loophole that States are exploiting by offering TANF-provided informational brochures and informational 1-800 numbers to maximize SNAP enrollment and the corresponding increase in Federal food benefits.

Categorical eligibility, simply known as Cat-El, was designed to help streamline the administration of SNAP by allowing households to be certified as eligible for SNAP food benefits without evaluating household assets or gross income. 42 States are exploiting an unintended loophole of the TANF-provided informational brochures and informational 1-800 numbers to maximize SNAP enrollment and the corresponding increase in Federal food benefits and the cost. These States, with all due respect, are also gaming the system to bring otherwise ineligible SNAP participants into the program.

In an ongoing effort to streamline government programs, we should eliminate the duplicative SNAP Employment and Training Program and the SNAP Nutrition Education Grants Program. Combined, these two programs cost over $8 billion and do not represent any direct food benefits--any direct food benefits.

This amendment also ends the Department of Agriculture practice of giving $48 million in awards every year to State agencies for basically doing their job. Currently, bonuses are given to States for best program access--signing up as many people for SNAP as possible; most improved program access--how many more people signed up for SNAP compared to the previous year; and best application processing timelines--handling applications within required guidelines. The bonuses are not even required to be used for SNAP administration. A recipient State may choose to use the funding for any State priority.

Finally, the amendment terminates the ongoing stimulus, enacted by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which provided extra funding to increase monthly SNAP food benefits. I really understand the importance of domestic food assistance programs for many hard-working Americans, including many Kansans. As chairman of the House Agriculture Committee some years ago, we worked very hard to save the Food Stamp Program and prevent any kinds of efforts to simply do away with it or send it back to States because of the very things I have talked about.

My goal is simple: to restore 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. I encourage my colleagues to support this amendment and these reforms for the benefit of all Americans.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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Mr. ROBERTS. Mr. President, this is an amendment I have worked on considerably, along with Senator Thune, Senator Johanns, others on the Agriculture Committee, and others as well. We can restore integrity to the SNAP program while providing benefits to those truly in need. Let me emphasize that--while providing benefits to those truly in need. We are not touching those while we will save an additional $31 billion; $31 billion as compared to what? Compared to $800 billion over 10 years. If we cannot at least make those kinds of savings, $31 billion to $800 billion, we have problems. I am not proposing a dramatic change in the policy of nutrition programs, such as block granting programs to States would represent; instead, this amendment would enforce the principles of good government and return SNAP spending to more responsible levels.

SNAP was exempted from across-the-board cuts known as sequestration. However, it is clear there are areas within the program that could provide significant savings that were left untouched. Enacting these reforms would allow the Federal Government to continue to help those who truly need Federal benefits and assistance but also enact needed reforms. Otherwise, food stamps and SNAP will continue to be a target. I don't want that. I think we can restore integrity to the program. I encourage my colleagues to support this amendment.

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Mr. ROBERTS. Mr. President, I thank the Presiding Officer.

No, no, no, no; we are not cutting anybody's benefits that the distinguished Senator from New York is talking about. This amendment would effectively shield over 80 percent of the farm bill from any deficit reduction and prevent the bill from addressing a serious breach in the nutrition program. The distinguished chairperson of the Agriculture Committee, the Senator from Michigan, already has included the provision in the bill. To say the chairperson is against food stamps for needy people is ridiculous.

It is important to note this amendment does more than create in a State what is called the LIHEAP loophole which we don't want; this amendment also cuts crop insurance. That is the No. 1 priority of American farmers today. It is one of the great success stories. It was developed as a way to help farmers manage their own risks, have skin in the game, and head off the need for costly, inefficient, ad hoc disaster programs. These types of cuts can be difficult to absorb. When we are in the third year of drought is not the time to change them.

I also wish to add the Senator from New York has been a champion of expanding crop insurance coverage for specialty crops, organic crops in her home State. I just think that perhaps she is misinformed.

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