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Sessions Discusses USDA's Effort To Expand Food Stamp Enrollment Regardless Of Financial Need


Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee, delivered remarks on the Senate floor today regarding efforts by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand food stamp enrollment regardless of the recipient's financial need. Rush transcript excerpts of Sessions' remarks follow:

"I just wanted to share a few thoughts this morning about the food stamp program and some of the developments that have been going on.

America is a generous and compassionate nation. We do not want and will not have people hungry in our country. We want to be able to be supportive of people in need, but every program must meet the basic standards of efficiency and productivity and wisdom in management, and this program is resisting that.

It's the fastest growing major program in the United States government. In the year 2000, we spent $20 billion on food stamps nationwide per year. This year it's $80 billion. Last year it was $80 billion. It's gone up fourfold in 10 years… It's increasing every year and virtually every month. The most recent report in September had one of the largest increases in history, another 600,000 added to the rolls, totaling now 47.7 million people, one out of every six Americans receiving food stamps…

The establishment says that every dollar is needed. Not a dime can be reduced. I certainly agree that no one should be hungry in America, but we must know that the SNAP program, the food stamp program as it's commonly known, is not the only benefit that people have… If you took all the means-tested welfare-type programs that are in existence in America today, over 60 or 80 [of them], and you just divided [total spending on these programs] by the number of people that fall below the poverty line in America, it would be $60,000 per family…

The question I would ask is, can we improve [the administration of welfare], can we help more people move from dependence to independence, and is the program functioning like you would like it to function?

So I have been asking a question to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and he provided some information that was very troubling to me… I would just note in some of our first inquiries in examination of their program, we find that they are on a determined effort to expand the number of people who get on welfare--on food stamps--even if they don't want to be on food stamps.

And one of the things, Mr. President, you might be interested in knowing, is they gave a person in western North Carolina, one of the [recruitment workers there], an award for overcoming mountain pride. And basically, what they said was, this lady should be given an award because when people in the mountains who are independent--and believe me, they can take care of themselves, thank you, without the federal government--she overcame that.

They have a brochure telling people what to say when people say, "I don't need food stamps," to get them to sign up for food stamps.

According to the USDA, only 72 percent of those eligible participated… [Of eligible individuals who do not participate], USDA says, quote, "their communities lose out" on benefits from SNAP dollars flowing into the economies… How many millions more people would be on the food stamp program if 100 percent qualified? …

[USDA has] produced a pamphlet instructing recruiters on how to, quote, "overcome to word "No.'" The USDA claims the chief obstacle is [the belief] that the benefits aren't needed. That's an obstacle. USDA says everyone wins when eligible people take advantage of benefits to which they are entitled, claiming that each $5 in new SNAP benefits generates almost twice the amount of economic activity for the community. We might do it another fourfold. That would really make America prosperous.

The USDA produced a Spanish-language ad in which the main character is pressured into accepting food stamps. This is what's on the video. The lady says, "I don't need anyone's help. My husband earns enough to take care of us." Her friend mocks her. This is the Department of Agriculture pitch. "When are you going to learn?" [the friend asks]. Eventually she gives in to her friends who are pressuring her and agrees to enroll.

Is this the right approach for America? We need to work to help people with pride, help people to assume their own independence, and to be successful, and take care of their own families and move them from dependence to independence. That ought to be the fundamental goal of our system. It was the goal in the welfare reform of 1996 that worked dramatically, more people prospered, fewer people in poverty, more people taking care of themselves. It really was a success. We've been drifting back away from that.

And what I sense is when you ask questions about it, you're treated as someone who doesn't care about people who are hungry… when all we're asking is, can't we do it better? Can't we look back to the principles of independence and individual responsibility and individual pride that Americans have, and nurture that and use that as a way to help reduce dependence in this country?"

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