Republicans Hint At Food Stamp Reform But Stop Short Of Calling For Overhaul

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Republicans in Congress are not likely to make major cuts to food stamps, according to the final report from the House Committee on Agriculture on the welfare program, which indicates how the next Congress will approach the program.

More than 45 million Americans currently receive food stamps, down slightly from 47 million in 2013 as a result of the Great Recession. The program costs $73 billion each year, according to Department of Agriculture data.

Despite some fraud and abuse of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, and calls from the political right to reduce the program or at least separate the welfare program from the massive agriculture appropriations effort known as the Farm Bill, the focus of the next congressional session will focus more on improving food stamps rather than reforms.

President-elect Donald Trump didn’t promise to cut or make major reforms to the food stamps program during his campaign, but in his 2011 book “Time to Get Tough,” he said “when half of food stamp recipients have been on the dole for nearly a decade, something is clearly wrong, and some of it has to do with fraud.”

The Heritage Foundation, a leading conservative think tank with ties to the Trump transition, says that improving the food stamps program would be a good place to start in the effort to reduce taxpayer costs in a welfare system that is unsustainable and “fails to improve self-sufficiency.”

“Over the past two years, it was clear that there is sincere, bi-partisan interest in ensuring that SNAP is meeting the needs of those it is intended to serve,” Texas Rep. Mike Conaway, Republican chairman of the committee, said in a statement introducing the report.

After voicing support for the overall SNAP program, Conaway told the Associated Press that “there’s nothing off the table when it comes to looking at solutions around these areas where we think improvements need to be made.”

Conaway said that through Agriculture Committee’s 16 hearings and a “top-to-bottom review” of food stamps, members “found that the program is working well in many areas, but there are a number of areas in need of improvement.”

For example, the report says that some states need to enforce work requirements better, something that hasn’t been a major issue since post-recession recovery measures allowed states to waive work requirements for some food stamps recipients, contributing to the spike in participation rates.

The agriculture committee’s report notes that since unemployment and under employment are “leading causes” of poverty, “promoting pathways to employment is the best way to help individuals climb the economic ladder out of poverty and into self-sufficiency.”

The food stamps program can take advantage of innovation and technology in order to “adapt to meet the needs of each recipient,” the report says. The 2014 Farm Bill included mandates for several tech innovations, like the ability to use food stamps to purchase food online and delivery of food to remote areas. The Department of Agriculture took steps this fall to test both of those innovations. (RELATED: Congress Mulls Allowing Food Stamps Purchases Online)

“By understanding what works and what doesn’t, we can better help those who fall on hard times so everyone has a chance to achieve the American Dream,” Indiana Rep. Jackie Walorski, who chairs the subcommittee on nutrition, said in the statment.

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