Sessions: Budget for food stamps ballooning out of control

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Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions has set his sights on a federal government program that he says has quadrupled its cost during the last decade. This year the federal government is projected to spend $80 billion on food stamps. Sessions says the program’s cost has doubled in the last three years and is set to increase another 14 percent this year.

Sessions told The Daily Caller that no large government program’s cost has expanded as quickly as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamp program, which is dwarfing the budgets for other federal responsibilities.

“There is no doubt, if this country isn’t willing to look under the hood of the food stamp program as we try to bring our surging debt under control, we are obviously not serious about what we are doing,” Sessions said. “You know, for example — this is important — the federal highway program is about 40 billion [dollars] … The entire Department of Justice, including the prison system, is about about 30 [billion]. This program is 80 [billion], and it’s doubled in three years.”

Setting aside the unemployment rate, one of the reasons the program has ballooned is a federal allowance known as “categorical eligibility.” This permits states to make households automatically eligible for food stamps if they receive other federal benefits like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or counseling services.

“This makes no sense, because they should at least fill out a form that certifies they meet the asset and income requirements,” Sessions said.

The Alabama senator introduced an amendment to three spending bills on the Senate floor last week to end the categorical eligibility requirement. It was voted down, 41 to 58.

Seven Republicans voted against his proposal, including Maine Sen. Susan Collins, Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, Indiana Sen. Dan Coats, Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the amendment would have saved the government $10 billion over the next ten years without changing the SNAP program’s current eligibility requirements.

“We obviously didn’t do a sufficiently good job in laying out the how simple and reasonable this reform was, or people didn’t hear it,” Sessions said of the defeat. “But I do intend to pursue this.”

Sessions’ food stamp proposal is part of his overall desire to rout out waste. Last week he proposed a new rule in response to the president’s “Buffett Rule” that would raise taxes on wealthy Americans. Sessions’ “Solyndra Rule” would prevent the federal government from spending more money until it ends current waste, fraud and abuse — for which the solar company Solyndra has become the poster company.

“A good government should not ask people for more tax money until they can assure them that they’re operating on a sound basis,” he told TheDC. “And you know, our debt crisis — if we don’t avoid it — will disproportionately hurt the poor. So I think in the long run, if we take responsible steps to rein in spending, we have a better chance of meeting the needs of people that are hurting and actually have fewer people that are hurting.”

Sessions added that the president’s jobs bill, filibustered for a second time in the Democratic-controlled Senate last week, is not the silver bullet the economy needs. But he said the United States needs to reduce spending and its ever-mounting debt.

“I believe that the American people do not favor increasing our debt in an attempt to gain a short-term financial benefit,” Sessions said. “I think that if there was any support for that, it was virtually eliminated after the failure of the first stimulus plan.”

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