U.S. Senator Pat Roberts today offered an amendment (948) to the 2013 Farm Bill to save taxpayers nearly $31 billion and restore integrity to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps, while preserving food benefits for those in need.
Before the vote, Roberts said in part, "This amendment would help rein in the largest expenditure within Department of Agriculture's budget - the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program 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 enforces principles of good government and returns SNAP spending to much more responsible levels."
Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE) and Senator John Thune (R-SD) are cosponsors of Roberts' amendment 948 that is similar to a bill Roberts introduced earlier this year, S. 458, The Improve Nutrition Program Integrity and Deficit Reduction Act.
According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the Roberts amendment saves the taxpayer nearly $31 billion over 10 years.
Roberts' amendment differed slightly from his comprehensive legislation, S. 458, because two of the provisions in Roberts' original SNAP reform proposal are part of the underlying bill including $4 billion in savings to address part of the LIHEAP loophole and a provision prohibiting lottery winners from receiving SNAP benefits.
The Roberts measure eliminates the loophole affecting the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), whereby 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 annually in LIHEAP benefits to increase monthly SNAP benefits an average of $90 ($1,080 per year) for households that do not otherwise pay out-of-pocket utility bills.
"By eliminating the LIHEAP loophole, we'll save taxpayers $12 billion, which is an $8 billion addition compared to the current version of the farm bill," Roberts said.
The Roberts amendment also ties SNAP benefits to those receiving cash assistance only as part of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF). Currently, States can automatically enroll recipients of the TANF program in SNAP, a procedure known as categorical eligibility. At the encouragement of USDA, States are exploiting this provision by providing minimal TANF assistance to recipients in the form of informational brochures and 1--800 numbers which then qualifies them for SNAP benefits. Roberts' amendment requires that a recipient qualify specifically for cash assistance to automatically receive SNAP 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," Roberts said. "However 42 States are exploiting an unintended loophole of TANF, and expanding the aid beyond those it was designed to help."
Finally, the Roberts amendment terminates the ongoing stimulus spending, which continues to provide extra funding to increase monthly SNAP food benefits.
"I understand the importance of domestic food assistance programs for many hard working Americans, including many Kansans," Roberts said. "My goal is simple - to restore integrity to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in a common sense and comprehensive manner. Enacting this package of reforms will allow the federal government to continue to help those that truly need SNAP food benefits and assistance."
The amendment was not agreed to (40-58) by the U.S. Senate although Roberts vows to continue to look for opportunities to pass his stand-alone legislation.
"Today we had a golden opportunity to improve an important program while saving money for taxpayers who are fed up with wasteful spending," Roberts said following the vote. "This goes to show how difficult it is for Washington to spend smartly and cut spending despite our dire financial straits."
Senator Roberts, a senior member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, has a proven track record on reforming federal nutrition programs. As Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee in 1995, then Congressman Roberts eliminated waste, fraud and abuse in the Food Stamp Program as part of the Freedom to Farm Bill.