Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is advancing an amendment to the 2012 farm bill that will cut $11 billion over ten years from the food stamp program. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) agreed to bring the measure up for a vote, along with an amendment from Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand (D-NY) that may “restore some of the lost funding” that is in the underlying bill.
Sessions claims that the cuts would prevent fraud in the program. As he put it during a June 7th floor speech:
We also have to ask: Is the benefit going to the right people? Is the money being expended wisely? Is it helping people become independent? Is it encouraging people to look for ways to be productive and be responsible for their families? Or does it create dependency on a series of government programs?
There are a number of reasons for the arresting trend of growth in this program. While the poor economy has undeniably increased the number of people on food stamps, this alone cannot explain the extraordinary growth in the program. … [T]he way the system is arranged—with states administering the program but the feds paying for it—states have an incentive to see their food stamp budgets swell, not shrink. That means overlooking a dramatic amount of fraud and abuse.
But the fraud rate is only 1 percent in the food stamps program and overall error rates have plunged in recent years, hitting an all-time low in 2010, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
According to a study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food stamps reduced the poverty rate by 8 percent in 2009 and “lifted the average poor person’s income up about six percent closer to the [federal poverty] line.” In 2010, the program kept more than 5 million Americans from falling below the poverty line and reduced the number of children living in extreme poverty — defined as less than $2 per day, before government aid — by half in 2011.
Sessions’ amendment was defeated 43-56.
This post incorrectly stated that the cuts in Sessions’ amendment amounted to $4 billion, which would reduce average benefits by $90 per month for select households. Those cuts are in the underlying legislation advanced by Sessions and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). Sessions’ amendment would have cut billions of dollars in addition to those in the underlying bill. We apologize for the error.