Today, the House of Representatives failed to pass Congressman Tom Marino's "SNAP transparency" amendment to H.R. 1947, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act of 2013.
Marino's amendment would have directed the Government Accountability Office to establish a pilot program to collect and make public data that is currently required to be reported under the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 by those retailers and stores participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
GAO would then determine if current reporting requirements could be used to determine the specific food items being purchased with benefits through SNAP.
"This common-sense amendment would have finally brought a little transparency and accountability to an $80+ billion program," Marino said. "It is inconceivable that at a time when Americans are demanding increased transparency and accountability, more than 80% of my colleagues are simply "okay' with having no clue as to how these dollars are really spent."
In 2012 alone, $80 billion of taxpayer money was spent on SNAP. In 2013, it is estimated the cost of the program will exceed $82.5 billion.
"I am extremely disappointed that big business and special interest groups perpetrated myths about my amendment, falsely claiming it would "cost hundreds of millions of dollars,' "require extensive data mining,' and "place an unprecedented mandate on America's food retailers.' All of these statements are false." Marino added.
"This pilot program simply would have collected the data that is already required of those retailers and stores currently accepting food stamps," Marino said. "It is ironic that my opponents argued that because there may be a compliance cost for a program that is completely voluntary for retailers, we should just forgo any meaningful oversight of how these taxpayer dollars are being spent."
The Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 required stores and retailers participating in the federal food stamp program to "keep records as may be necessary to determine whether the program is being conducted in compliance" and continues further to state that the records shall "be available for inspection and audit at any reasonable time," and "be preserved for such a period of not less than 3 years" (7 USC 2020 (a)(3)).
"As a federal prosecutor, I presented all of the facts to the jury so they could make decisions based on the evidence. Yet Congress is content to discuss reforms and changes to a program on which we have virtually no information or oversight," said Marino. "Our nation is nearly $17 trillion in debt. It is incumbent on Congress to fully scrutinize every federal dollar that is spent."
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's guidelines for food item eligibility under SNAP, the benefits cannot be used to purchase the following:
Beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes or tobacco;
Any nonfood items such as pet foods, soaps, or household supplies;
Vitamins and medicines;
Food that will be eaten in the store; and
Eligible recipients may use SNAP benefits to purchase everything from dairy products, fresh produce, meats and breads to snack crackers, beverages and cookies.
Marino's amendment failed passage in the House by a vote of 79-349 (Roll call no. 266).