Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Food Stamp "trafficking" not a problem

Hi there, it's my first post here at Nussle Watch. Just a little background on myself - I work for a local hunger relief non-profit that serves 42 counties in Iowa and I spend a good deal of my time on anti-hunger advocacy. I've been at this job a little over 2 1/2 years, but if there is one thing I've learned, it's that Jim Nussle is no friend to people in poverty. Take this recent (within the last week) quote by Jim Nussle:

"In addition, the House Agriculture Committee recommended reforms to the Food Stamp program. These reforms are designed to help states reduce the practice of trafficking food stamps and other fraudulent activity. H.R. 4241 addresses this issue because every dollar we lose to food stamp trafficking is a dollar of benefits that do not reach the hungry."

Now, I've explained this before in previous posts on my blog, but I'll explain it here again. The President came out with his budget in spring of 2005, and recommended $564 million in cuts to food stamps. This would happen by cutting off 300,000 recipients (mostly children) from the program in 11 states, by removing "categorical eligibility." What that means, is that certain states have taken the option of simplifying their application process to reduce paperwork and bureaucracy, and if you automatically qualify for TANF, you automatically qualify for food stamps. The US Senate, thanks to efforts of Tom Harkin AND Chuck Grassley have voted in this year's budget to recommend $0 in cuts to food stamps. The House, on the other hand, voted to cut almost $800 million from the program. So in addition to the categorical eligibility cut, the House added some anti-immigrant provisions that were removed in 2002. No LEGAL immigrants can collect any food assistance until they have lived here for 7 years. This includes people who have been collecting, but haven't been here for 7 years.

But no matter how draconian these measures are in a time of growing poverty and need, Jim Nussle is lying about the nature of the cuts. NONE of the provisions would reduce the virtually non-existent problem of "trafficking" or "fraud." Recent changes in the program have made it very hard to do that, namely putting benefits on an ATM-type card, called the EBT. Fraud & waste in food stamps is about a low as a governmental program can get. It's error rate is at the lowest point ever, and has declined for 6 straight years.

Jim Nussle constantly sings the "fraud, waste, and abuse" tune to us advocates and the press. That's because the house proposals to cut people from food stamps for no good reason are not politically popular.


I'll let FRAC (Food Research & Action Center, one of the foremost anti-hunger advocacy organizations) answer him, because they do it well:

There is nothing in the CBO estimate that would indicate that House passed food stamp changes would help states reduce the practice of "trafficking" food stamps and other fraudulent activity. The totally independent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate explains that once fully implemented 255,000 would lose eligibility for the food stamp program.

Click here for CBO estimate

"CBO estimates that about 185,000 people who would lose categorical eligibility would not be able to meet the income and asset tests for the program. On average, those individuals would lose about $45 a month in Food Stamp benefits in 2007."

"CBO estimates that an average of about 50,000 people would no longer be eligible for benefits in fiscal years in 2006 and 2007. That estimate is based on fiscal year 1996 QC data adjusted for changes in Food Stamp rules and recent immigration statistics. That number would rise to 70,000 in 2008,"

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