Ahead of a vote for cuts that would deprive 4 to 6 million Americans of food assistance, Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) tried to justify the measure by incorrectly claiming that Republicans’ cuts to food stamps amount to less than half of the program’s fraudulent outlays. Rather than compare the dollars that they want to cut from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to the rate of fraud in the program, Harris compared the cuts to the proportion of businesses at which food stamp fraud occurs. He used that incoherent comparison to claim that the cuts will “leave more money getting to the hands of the people who do need it.”
The actual rate of food stamp trafficking, in which food stamp recipients sell their benefits for cash, is 1.3 percent, according to the most recent data. Watch Harris claim to CNN that the food stamp fraud rate is about 10 percent, making his 5 percent cut to the program seem not so bad:
It’s a 5 percent decrease when we know there’s 10.5 percent of the stores that take food stamps are engaged in trafficking, so we know the fraud stands at 10 percent of the stores. We only want to cut 5 percent. That oughta leave more money getting to the hands of the people who do need it. And there are millions of Americans who need that benefit. [...]
We know that there’s waste fraud and abuse. We know there’s probably 10 percent, when you combine people who probably should be working, or looking for a job or on job training, plus the stores that shouldn’t be trafficking. We’re only asking for a 5 percent decrease in a time of budgetary crisis, where this is being put up against funding the NIH for basic medical research, this is against putting money into defense.
But comparing statistics about where fraud happens to statistics about how much money the program spends is misleading. The food stamps program has one of the lowest rates of fraud of any federal program. Fraud is actually a much larger problem in the crop insurance program that Harris and nearly all of his fellow Republicans re-authorized earlier this summer. Crop insurance has an erroneous payments rate higher than food stamps, and made 70 separate incorrect high-dollar payments last year compared to zero from all five federal food assistance programs. The crop insurance program also ends up enriching Wall Street insurers year in and year out with billions of taxpayer dollars in profits effectively guaranteed by the system.
Furthermore, the cuts Harris and his fellow Republicans support have no connection to the trafficking problem he repeatedly and misleadingly cited on CNN Thursday. The cuts primarily come from work requirements that are redundant and harmful and from changing the eligibility process in ways that will leave millions more families hungry. None of that will prevent the tiny subset of food stamp recipients who sell their benefits for cash from continuing to do so, but it will leave between 4 and 6 million of the most vulnerable Americans without the funds they rely upon to feed themselves. Conservatives object to programs that make food stamps available to people with after-tax incomes above 130 percent of the federal poverty line, but eight in ten hungry children live in households that make up to 185 percent of the poverty mark, so tightening eligibility rules will inevitably put needy families into further hardship. Food charities have said they are already beyond their capacity and cannot absorb the additional wave of hungry people.