By MATTHEW D. ERNST
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Indiana’s 3rd District Rep. Marlin Stutzman has partnered with a fellow Republican, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, to introduce legislation they say will save $30 billion in the next 10 years from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), often still called food stamps.
“Everyone in Washington talks about deficit reduction, but we’ve introduced a real, responsible plan to save taxpayer dollars,” said Stutzman.
“Over the past decade, SNAP spending has doubled as this program outgrows its original mission of providing temporary assistance.”
Two of the nine sections of the Thune and Stutzman bill account for an estimated $24.4 billion in the proposed savings. Those two sections would limit some forms of automatic qualification for SNAP and close the so-called “LIHEAP Loophole” (Low Income Home Energy Assistance program). These areas were prominent parts of Republican proposals for SNAP savings last year.
Stutzman and Thune hope to trim SNAP’s budget by limiting current automatic qualifications for it. Under current guidelines, households can automatically qualify for SNAP if they are eligible for various low-income benefits.
Critics of this “categorical eligibility” insist this allows some households to sign up for SNAP benefits simply based on eligibility for other benefits. In other words, a household may not be actually receiving other low-income benefits but can still start receiving food assistance because the household is eligible to receive other benefits.
The bill specifies that households receiving SNAP must actually be receiving other low-income benefits, narrowing eligibility for SNAP to households proponents see as more legitimately in need of assistance.
Creating this qualification will save an estimated $11 billion over 10 years, according to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate.
Some hunger-combating organizations, as well as some Democratic legislators, have opposed any cuts to food assistance programs.
“The need for food assistance remains high, and our food banks are really struggling right now to help all the people in their communities who are turning to them for help,” said Bob Aiken, president and CEO of Feeding America, challenging legislators to learn more about hunger.
“Members of Congress need to know that Feeding America food banks and other charities simply could not absorb the increased demand for food if funding were cut from SNAP.”
Thune said the plan would not cut funds from those in need. Rather, it would create a more efficient program and seek to trim growth in SNAP spending that conservatives see expanding an entitlement state.
“Since President Obama came into office, SNAP participation has increased at 10 times the rate of job creation, the annual spending on SNAP has doubled and one in seven Americans now participates in SNAP,” said Thune.
“This explosive growth in both the SNAP enrollment and federal cost of the program is alarming and requires lawmakers to take cost-effective legislative control measures. Our bill would ensure that benefits are available for needy families by maintaining system integrity and reducing waste in the system.”
The Thune and Stutzman bill also closes the so-called “LIHEAP Loophole.”
Under current regulations, states are able to send small ($1 and $5) LIHEAP checks to some SNAP participants, triggering higher SNAP benefit payments.
Some Democrats have disputed the existence of this loophole on the basis that LIHEAP provides essential funds for those in poverty. The Stutzman and Thune bill estimates $13.4 billion can be saved over 10 years by eliminating higher SNAP benefits triggered by what the Republicans have termed small LIHEAP payments.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) has also introduced a similar bill to improve SNAP.
The CBO estimates his bill, the Improve Nutrition Program Integrity and Deficit Reduction Act, will result in $36 billion in savings over 10 years.
Nutrition programs, including SNAP, have increased as a portion of farm bill spending since 2008.
According to a February estimate by the CBO, 67 percent of farm bill spending went to nutrition programs in 2008. In 2013, the CBO estimates 77 percent of its spending will be dedicated to nutrition programs.
A report published last week by the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) indicated “inconclusive” evidence that SNAP participation is beneficial or adverse regarding diet quality. Also last week, the ERS updated its state-by-state SNAP policy database. The database allows information on SNAP for each state to be accessed online at www.ers. usda.gov/data-products/snap-policy- database.aspx#.UXqeL0reYbW