Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is pushing a new amendment that would make it more difficult for people to receive food stamps by restricting eligibility requirements and eliminating a planned $9 billion funding increase for the program. Sessions says his plan is intended to reduce the deficit and combat fraud, which he claims is rampant. From ABC News’ Top Line today:
SESSIONS: No program in our government has surged out of control more dramatically than food stamps. And nothing is being done about it. [...] Multimillion dollar lottery winners are getting food stamps because the money is considered to be an asset not an income. One of the fast and furious gun buyers –
HOST: But hold on, for ever lottery winner that has food stamps, there’s probably a lot more people who really need them who have them, right?
SESSIONS: Well look, do you think there are four times as many people who need food stamps today as in 2001. That answers itself. [...] We cannot do this. We do not have the money. Congress doesn’t understand that we can’t afford to double the program every three years.
It’s shockingly ignorant at best and dishonest at worst for Sessions — the ranking GOP member of the Senate Budget Committee — to completely ignore the role the economy has played on food stamp usage. The cost of the program has jumped because more Americans are out of work and wages are down, thus more people need assistance. Food prices have also gone up, adding additional costs. But the cost of the program will come down on its own as the economy recovers and more people can afford to feed themselves.
In fact, the food stamp program has been critical for reducing poverty and pumping money into local economies during the down economy, so cutting it now would not only take food out of peoples’ mouths, but could slow down the recovery. No one is trying to “double the program every three years” as Sessions claims. (Currently, nearly one in five Alabamians is on Food Stamps.)
And while the senator suggests the program has grown due to fraud, in fact, errors in the food stamp program — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) –are currently at an all-time low, accounting for less than three percent of the program’s cost. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities:
To ensure that benefits are provided only to eligible households and in the proper amounts, SNAP has one of the most rigorous quality control systems of any public benefit program and, in recent years, has achieved its lowest error rates on record. In fiscal year 2009, even as caseloads were rising, states set new record lows for error rates. The net loss due to errors equaled only 2.7 percent of program costs in 2009. There is no evidence that program errors are driving up SNAP spending.
It’s worth noting that while Sessions claims the country can’t afford to feed the hungry, he has fought to preserve the Bush tax cuts for wealthy, subsides for big oil companies, and demanded new tax cuts for corporations, all of which also contribute to the deficit.