Imagine a government program that discourages work, rewards idleness and promotes long-term government dependence.
Unfortunately you don’t have to imagine. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, is an $84 billion program that expands rapidly each year.
The food stamp program was created in the 1960s to provide a safety net for low income Americans needing assistance to put food on the table. But the program has expanded, loosening eligibility standards and actually encouraging people to sign up. Today, almost one in five American households received food stamp benefits.
In a recent paper, Heritage Foundation welfare expert Robert Rector offered seven suggestions to improve the food stamp program:
- Cap future food stamp spending. Since taking office, President Obama has nearly doubled food stamp spending from $39 billion in 2008 to a projected $85 billion in 2012. Even after adjusting for inflation and population growth, food stamp spending is at nearly twice the level in any previous recession.
- Transfer food stamps from the USDA to HSS. The food stamp program now falls under the management of the Department of Agriculture. With an institutional focus on promoting agriculture, the USDA has treated food stamps as a means to expand farmer income by promoting increased food purchases. Not only is this not really the purpose of food stamps, Rector explains that this “is an inefficient policy to provide income to farmers; for each $1.00 government spends on food stamps, farmers receive about three cents in added income.” The program would be more effectively run under the Department of Health and Human Services.
- Close loopholes in food stamp enrollment. Before Clinton administration reforms, food stamps were limited to persons with low incomes and less than $2,000 in liquid assets. But after recent reforms, individuals only need to be elegable for TANF welfare benefits to be deemed “categorically eligible” for food stamps. Rector explains “a middle-class family with one earner who becomes unemployed for one or two months can receive $668 per month in food stamps even if the family has $20,000 in cash sitting in the bank.”
- Reduce fraud. Due to rapid expansion and a reliance on recipients voluntarily updating their information, many people receive more food aid than intended. By cross checking with the National Directory of New Hires, the food stamp program could reduce fraud and ensure it is providing assistance only to those who truly need the support.
- Convert food stamps into a work activation program. The current program treats the outcome of poverty but fails to address the root of joblessness and dependence on government. The food stamp program should be reformed so it becomes a short term safety net for needy individuals actively seeking work.
- Require drug testing as a condition of food stamp aid. Food stamps should not be an open-ended entitlement. Direct or in-kind aid should always be given on the basis of reciprocal obligation. With welfare users twice as likely as the general public to use illegal drugs, hard working Americans should not be mandated to spend their tax payer dollars without conditions and boundaries on food stamp disbursement.
What do you think is the most grievous shortcoming of the food stamp program?