The food stamp program has become (and has remained) bloated during the COVID-19 pandemic, in part because of the potential for a Biden administration to illegally increase benefits by double digits. Furthermore, even though Millionaire has registered, the glaring eligibility loophole remains unaddressed.
The new Republican-controlled House has an opportunity to initiate three concrete reforms that would save taxpayers billions of dollars, protect benefits from fraud, and improve outcomes for those who really need it.
As freshmen in the House enter their new committees, one of the biggest spending reauthorizations ahead of them is the farm bill.Republican Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson of Pennsylvania, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, has held his first attend lectures Prioritization of the bill is sought.
The most expensive part of the farm bill is actually the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, a safety net program that provides money to help low-income individuals buy food.
The food stamp program has grown significantly since the start of the pandemic, especially as the U.S. labor force participation rate remains below pre-pandemic numbers—a clear sign that more people are on the sidelines of the workforce. The program now serves 41.1 million people — a sharp increase of 4.3 million from pre-pandemic enrollment.
Spending also rose sharply. In 2020, the food stamp program cost $90 billion. That figure continues to rise in 2022, with the Congressional Budget Office estimating that costs will rise 18% this year, to $159 billion.
Congress could make real changes to get the program back on track:
1. Re-examine the Biden administration’s food stamp benefits increase. Surprisingly, the Biden administration unilaterally increased food stamp benefits by at least 23% in October 2021. By updating the Thrifty Foods Program, the USDA increased food stamp spending by $250 billion to $300 billion over 10 years.
While the last farm bill directed the Thrift Food Program to be renewed until 2023 and every five years thereafter, each of the previous ones was cost-neutral (food stamps always include annual inflation updates).
A Biden administration could bypass regulations and congressional authorizations to increase the overall cost of the program. In fact, Senate and House Republicans have asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate the legal authority and process USDA has put in place to achieve such unprecedented growth.
After the investigation, the GAO concluded that “officials conducted the update without critical program management and quality assurance measures in place.”
Congress should investigate this process and develop strong guidance for future updates.
2. Strengthen work requirements. Current law allows states to waive the work requirements that would otherwise apply to able-bodied individuals receiving food stamps—adult beneficiaries between the ages of 18 and 50 who are not disabled and do not have any children or other dependents in their household .
Even in a strong economy, these job expectations are fairly limited: they require individuals to work or prepare for work (including volunteer work) 20 hours a week.
The work requirement will be enforced unless the state requires an exemption in one of two cases: unemployment exceeds 10% or the state lacks sufficient jobs. The USDA approves almost all exemptions under the “lack of sufficient jobs” option.
In 1996, the Temporary Relief cash transfer benefit program had a positive impact by broadly implementing work requirements for all recipients who were able to work. Employment rates are up, especially among single mothers who haven’t graduated high school. The percentage of single mothers working at TANF rose from 51 percent in 1992 to 76 percent in eight years.
In addition, teenage pregnancy and abortion rates have dropped dramatically. The most important result: Child poverty, which had remained constant for decades, fell precipitously by nearly 8 percent over the next decade. The poverty rate for single-parent households has dropped by nearly 60 percent.
Congress should learn the valuable lessons of the 1996 welfare reform. Policymakers can and should extend the work requirement to all working beneficiaries who do not care for children under 6 years of age.
3. Reform of broad-based classification eligibility. Current law allows states to enroll individuals in food stamps when they receive benefits from other programs, such as TANF. However, under an administrative option known as broad classification eligibility, the definition of “benefit” is so broad that it includes receipt of booklets and 1-800 numbers.
This definition allows individuals to bypass eligibility restrictions, particularly asset requirements (how much an applicant has in resources such as bank accounts or property). Adopting the absolute eligibility option would even allow millionaires to participate in the food stamp program.
The Trump administration has proposed a rule that would clarify which benefits count as eligible to “improve program integrity and reduce fraud, waste and abuse.” The rule was never finalized and never went into effect. Congress should change the law and close loopholes.
This Congress has a rare opportunity to change a key safety net program. By focusing on revisiting the Biden administration’s unilateral increase in food stamp benefits, strengthening work requirements, and enacting stricter eligibility criteria, Congress could save taxpayers billions of dollars while improving the lives of millions of families.
This article originally appeared on The Daily Signal