CNN’s Soledad O’Brien tore into Sen. Jeff Sessions’ (R-AL) efforts cut food stamps on CNN’s Starting Point Tuesday morning, arguing that the lawmaker’s efforts would disadvantage thousands of lower-income constituents who rely on the program. Earlier this year, Sessions proposed an amendment to the Farm Bill that would have removed $11 billion from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over 10 years. The effort ultimately failed.
The conservative lawmaker defended his proposed cuts to a visibly skeptical O’Brien, arguing that growing enrollment in food stamps during a period of shrinking unemployment suggests that Americans are free riding on the program for free government meals. O’Brien observed that Sessions himself twice voted to grow SNAP during the Bush administration and cited a study showing minimum fraud and abuse in the program.
“Twenty percent of your constituents are on food stamps and they look at the people who are actually eligible, it’s something like under 70 percent who [are] eligible who sign up,” O’Brien said:
O’BRIEN: You voted in fact in 2002 and 2008 to grow the program yourself. I think first under President Bush in 2002, and when it comes to fraud, this Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said SNAP has ‘the most rigorous quality control systems of any public benefit program in recent years, it’s received its lowest error rates on record.’ … Most people who are on it aren’t working the system, they are just hungry people. [...]
When you’re thinking of things to cut, people basically say, why are you trying to balance the budget on people making less than $23,000 a year, I think that range roughly, is the national average of a family on food stamps. So why not cut something else? There are other things that could be on the table before you pick a program that is feeding the nation’s poor children.
SESSIONS: I’m not picking a program. I say all programs need to be examined in this government. This government wasting money every day. There is no doubt about that. We have got to do better. And food stamps is a program that was totally exempt from any oversight and change when it has gone up four times in the last ten years in the amount we spend …
O’BRIEN: Two of those times you voted for it, sir. 2002 and 2008 you voted for it. Some people are saying, it’s growing because people are hurting.
SESSIONS: I voted for the ag bill that had that in it, probably so.
SNAP’s fraud rate rests at 1 percent 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.
A study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture find that 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.