Monday, June 17, 2013

Waste, fraud, and abuse in the food stamp program? Halfway through the SNAP Challenge, Ken M goes searching for the truth - Part 1

Last night I did a stir fry and cooked all of my chicken. I was on the go today and had to forfeit my usual eating-out habits. My colleague seems to be faring worse. She was suffering from a headache and searching for aspirins when I saw her. In fact, she looked like she was tied to the back of a PAT bus and dragged here. I exaggerate. She did have a headache and looked a little worn.

Outside the office I bump into the usual locals. I start bragging about the challenge, being on only $6 dollars a day for food. "I couldn't live off that" they squeak. As usual, the conversation quickly moves to everyone's opinion on people cheating the food stamp system. I really can't trust common perception because I know if I used an EBT card during my shopping trip and people saw me stuffing my sack to the point I could hardly lift it, this might create a certain misperception about the amount of food you can get on food stamps. But this is all superficial. I need some data on the big picture, some facts on how such supposedly massive abuse of the SNAP benefits program can occur.

I consulted a report issued by the GOP: Reeling in Government Waste, Fraud, and Abuse—Replacing Dangerous Defense Cuts with Common Sense Spending Reductions.

Read it. Without realizing they're doing so, this GOP report (the seeming talking points bible for all current anti-SNAP talk) actually points the finger at the private sector marketplace - businesses that profit in trafficking EBT transactions. All food stamp funds are loaded onto an EBT card and can only be used for food purchases. Unless a merchant is fudging the transactions in the back office, the consumer is unable to use their card on anything but food. It's not news that the private sector can go astray, especially when it comes to tapping the public till. Look what happened in the housing, mortgage, banking, credit, and finance industries.

If this waste, fraud, and abuse is the widespread problem they allege, what's needed, then, is more government oversight, not cuts in funding to help hungry people get food on the table. And really - you mean to tell me there's no waste, fraud, and abuse among defense contractors taking government funds? Maybe related to, oh I don't know, their procurement process, salary compensation, or tax filing - to the tune of billions of dollars?! Yet you don't see the GOP tripping over themselves to cut defense spending.

The GOP report also points the finger at a lottery winner and two criminals in Detroit. Yes, these three individuals were egregiously defrauding the SNAP program. And because of that they were caught. But yes, because these three shysters tried to scam food stamps we should drastically cut food stamp funding for the millions of people who really need it. (*sarcasm*)

The GOP anti-food stamp talking points also cast a scornful eye on the "heat and eat" initiative. This was a technical fix designed to help states expand food stamp eligibility to those who weren't qualifying for sufficient benefits because they couldn't demonstrate they had utility payments (because their utilities were included in their rent). Ironically, "heat and eat" works exactly as the GOP describes it; they just view making sure people get the food stamps they're entitled to as "fraud."

The same goes for their attacks on "categorical eligibilty," which allows states to eliminate federal asset tests and raise the income threshold for SNAP i.e. removes barriers that keep people who need it from getting food stamps. Cat el also, by drawing on info from other government programs that help low-income families, reduces paperwork and reduces government administration costs. Funny, I thought increasing government efficiency was something the GOP would be all for.

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