GOP senator demands USDA stop pressuring people to enroll in food stamp program

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The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has engaged in extensive promotional efforts to help enroll people in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, in recent years, but administration officials are strongly denying that their efforts are anything but educational.

From radio and television ads to pamphlets and department guides offering tips to SNAP offices about how to convince people to accept food stamps, USDA has devoted extensive time and money toward getting out the word on SNAP — including working with the Mexican government to promote food stamps for immigrants.

The USDA is focused on outreach with the goal of increasing “participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” according to the agency’s website.

But in a letter to Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions explaining the agency’s partnership with Mexico, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently asserted that the USDA is not bent on pressuring people into government assistance.

“We do not pressure any eligible person to accept benefits, nor is our goal to simply increase the number of program participants, but we are determined to help people in need make informed decisions about whether or not to seek assistance for which they may be eligible,” Vilsack wrote to Sessions.

On Tuesday Sessions sent a letter back to Vilsack arguing that a number of USDA’s campaigns appear to conflict with the secretary’s claim.

“[T]he content of USDA’s advertisements and promotion campaigns demonstrate otherwise. For instance, there is the Spanish radio “novella” — taken down only week ago after criticism — whose entire premise is pressuring an individual to accept food stamps benefits despite her protestations.” Sessions pointed out in his letter, which was obtained by The Daily Caller. “Your department provides a document on how to ‘overcome the word ‘No’ and awarded a recruitment worker for overcoming people’s ‘mountain pride.‘”

Sessions added that the agency has even made the case that people should get on food stamps to improve their community’s economic situation.

“There is even a promotional guide suggesting those targeted for enrollment harm their communities by not accepting benefits: ‘Each $5 dollars in new SNAP benefits generates almost twice that amount in economic activity for the community… Everyone wins when eligible people take advantage of benefits to which they are entitled.’ These are only a few of many examples,” Sessions wrote.

Given Vilsack’s assurance that the USDA does not “pressure” people, Sessions demanded Tuesday in his letter that Vilsack “eliminate all materials, training and recruitment efforts that contradict your above statement.”

In his Tuesday letter, Sessions also requested information pertaining to USDA’s enrollment goals, as well as further details on USDA’s meetings with the Mexican government and the cost of non-citizen participation in SNAP.

Nearly 47 million people are currently participating in SNAP, and spending on the program has increased by more than 100 percent in the last four years.

The USDA did not respond to TheDC’s request for comment.

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