USDA combats ‘mountain pride,’ self-reliance to boost food stamp rolls

SNAP spending has doubled since 2008 and quadrupled since 2001. Participation has increased from 1-in-50 on food stamps in the 1970s to 1-in-7 today.

In a statement to The Daily Caller, USDA spokesman Alyn G. Kiel explained the agency’s SNAP outreach effort as an information distribution partnership with state and local agencies, advocates, employers, community and faith-based organizations, and others to help eligible people decide if they want to participate in SNAP.

“Congress allocates funds to USDA with the mandate to conduct public education about the benefits of SNAP and how to apply to help reduce hunger in America,” she explained in an email. “The agency began airing radio ads in 2004 and more recently developed a Community Toolkit to help organizations engage with elderly people who may be eligible but are not participating in SNAP. Public education is targeted to eligible individuals in the populations and geographic areas with the most need including the elderly and working poor.”

While Sessions does not begrudge food for those truly in need, he argues that the goal should be giving Americans the tools they need to get off food stamps, not adopting strategies to get more people on them. (FLASHBACK: Lottery winner using food stamps: ‘I thought maybe it was okay because I’m not working’)

To be sure, USDA claims that 50 percent of new participants leave the program within 9 months of enrolling — a statistic derived from a 1998 study — and that the assistance can help keep recipients healthy for work.

“Employees whose nutrition needs are met at home may be healthier and thus may take fewer sick days for themselves or their children. Employees may stay longer with companies that care about them by sharing information about SNAP benefits and its importance as a work support,” USDA explains. “SNAP helps families become financially stable and make the transition to self-sufficiency, getting them through the tough times.”

USDA contends that SNAP even offers incentives to get back to work, as SNAP benefits only decrease by 24 to 36 cents for every additional dollar a SNAP participant earns.

In the interim, however, USDA wants as many people as it can muster to join the program.

The Daily Caller reported last week that the USDA has been encouraging local SNAP offices to recruit with SNAP parties and games. CNN Money further reported that for the last four months the agency was running paid radio ads — costing taxpayers between $2.5 million to $3 million — in California, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio and the New York City metro area.

According to Sessions, there needs to be top-down reform of the program, commencing with actually categorizing SNAP as a welfare program.

“It should be coordinated with all the other welfare programs in an effort to move people from help to work, to help people move from temporary assistance to work and gainful employment,” Sessions said. “This is what the 1996 welfare reform focused on and it was very successful, but it does appear that we have slid back from that. The whole country needs to once again go through these programs and make them as beneficial to the recipients as possible.”

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