Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush called for an end to the federal food stamps program Friday in an outline on how to overhaul the welfare system.
Food stamps are the largest food-assistance program in the country. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the primary agency overseeing the program. It works in partnership with state agencies to help get food to low-wage individuals or those unable to work. Bush, however, plans to completely end the federal side of the program.
“I know that giving states more flexibility will open the door for transformative ideas to eliminate poverty and increase opportunity,” Bush wrote in his outline, which was obtained by The Washington Post. “We have spent trillions of dollars on the ‘War on Poverty,’ but there are now still more than 46 million Americans living in poverty.”
State agencies would be in charge of their own food stamp programs under the plan. Bush is not the first lawmaker to propose food stamp reforms but most others don’t seek to end the program completely. Other proposals have been on the federal and local level to help reduce fraud and waste.
“Economic mobility is also far too low,” Bush noted. “The current broken system not only fails those on welfare, but it actually encourages fraud, misuse and abuse.”
The libertarian Cato Institute argued in a 2013 report that the food stamp program has high administrative costs and significant levels of fraud and abuse. The report found 3.9 percent of the program is being misused in some way. It is one of the most frequently abused non–health care social welfare programs.
Some states have also moved to reform the program. Maine, Florida and Wisconsin have tried to implement policies to reduce food stamp fraud and abuse. The USDA, though, came out against the Wisconsin reforms because the state wanted to drug-test food stamp recipients.
The USDA has taken major steps in other areas to prevent fraud and abuse. This includes switching to electronic cards, which makes it easier to track purchases and harder to sell benefits for illegal substances. There are also federal and state taskforces dedicated to stopping abuse.
Since its participation peak in December 2012, the number of people receiving benefits has declined by more than 1.5 million, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Numbers are expected to continue declining as the economy improves.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is the nation’s largest food-assistance program. According to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the program has increased from 17 million participants in 2000 to nearly 47 million in 2014.
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