The House Oversight Committee, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), is holding a hearing today to examine fraud in the food stamp program (known as SNAP). Here is how the Committee’s Republicans explained the hearing’s purpose:
Thursday’s hearing will focus on the testimony of officials about why USDA is struggling to police these unscrupulous stores who engage in fraud. Unfortunately, skyrocketing fraud and a dysfunctional enforcement system is handicapping the program’s ability to help those in need – families and children.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) has made similarly disparaging comments about the food stamp program being “rife with fraud.” But the fact of the matter is that fraud in the food stamp program is incredibly low, at a rate of 1 percent. And overall error rates in the food stamp program have absolutely plunged in recent years, hitting an all-time low in 2010, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:
Despite the recent rapid caseload growth, USDA reports that states achieved a record-low SNAP error rate in fiscal year 2010. Only 3 percent of all SNAP benefits represented overpayments, meaning they either went to ineligible households or went to eligible households but in excessive amounts, and more than 98 percent of SNAP benefits were issued to eligible households.
In addition, the combined error rate — that is, the sum of overpayments and underpayments reached an all-time low in 2010 of just 3.81 percent.
That low error rate encompasses both overpayments and underpayments, those instances when an eligible participant in the system received less money than he/she was due. As CBPP noted, “the overwhelming majority [of food stamp errors] result from honest mistakes by recipients, eligibility workers, data entry clerks, or computer programmers,” not fraud.
Oversight Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said in his opening statement, “while the need for the SNAP program is at an historic high, fraud within the program is at an all-time low…Given this strong track record, I am concerned that the true purpose of this hearing may be to discredit the entire program in order to justify draconian cuts.” According to the Census Bureau, food stamps kept more than 5 million people out of poverty in 2010.