Politics
NEW YORK - OCTOBER 07:  A sign in a market window advertises the acceptance of food stamps on October 7, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images) NEW YORK - OCTOBER 07: A sign in a market window advertises the acceptance of food stamps on October 7, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)  

GOP senators voice concern about potential food stamp abuse by government volunteers

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Caroline May
Political Reporter

Two Republican senators are concerned that current policies and materials distributed by the government’s Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) could be encouraging paid volunteers to inappropriately use food stamp benefits.

South Dakota Republican John Thune, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, and Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, sent a letter to CNCS CEO Wendy Spencer on Tuesday inquiring about why the number of CNCS participants already enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamp program, appears to have grown, resulting in expanded food stamp use among government-funded volunteers.

The letter to CNCS highlights instances in which volunteer program materials explain and encourage volunteers to enroll in SNAP prior to their program start dates so that their volunteer taxpayer-funded stipends do not count as income and they may remain eligible for the government benefit.

The letter also indicates that some volunteer materials have encouraged food stamp use as a learning tool. (RELATED: Food stamp use increases, even as unemployment declines)

“Instructions like these raise concerns regarding the true cost of the CNCS program, the growing cost of the SNAP program due to the dramatic increase in SNAP program participation, and most importantly, CNCS’s potential role in what appears to be a deliberate effort to game SNAP program eligibility rules and use the program improperly to provide ‘learning’ opportunities for VISTA [Volunteers In Service To America] volunteers rather than feeding hungry Americans,” the letter reads in part.

Thune added that the role of SNAP is to feed hungry Americans, not supplement the incomes of government volunteers.

“It appears that a significant number of CNCS volunteers are taking advantage of a special provision that was included by Congress to ensure that potential volunteers would not rule-out program participation due to fear of losing food stamp benefits, not to encourage volunteers to game the SNAP program,” Thune said while announcing the letter.

The South Dakota senator encouraged the agency to respond to the inquiry regarding volunteers’ SNAP use and related documents “without delay.”

“[N]ow we’ve learned that a separate government agency — whose mission is to encourage volunteerism and community service — is using a loophole to further expand welfare enrollment without regard to need or qualification,” Sessions added.

“The agency’s apparent encouragement to misuse these programs explains how we can spend so much money on welfare — equivalent to $60,000 for every household living beneath the poverty line — while failing to accomplish the goal of reducing poverty and expanding upward mobility,” he added. “True compassion requires we reform this broken program.”

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