WASHINGTON, January 5, 2013 — Food stamps, or in USDA parlance, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is an expensive and bloated welfare program. A temporary and effective safety net to help struggling Americans put food on the table undoubtedly makes sense, but SNAP has spun out-of-control.
Two well-dressed women in an upscale neighborhood, both carrying Louis Vuitton handbags, paid for their groceries ahead of me with Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards, the modern-day version of food stamps. Women with expensive handbags paying for high-end food items with tax dollars is disturbing to the rest of us. Is it unusual?
Almost one in six, or 47.5 million, Americans now receive food stamps. Thirteen million more people receive the food subsidies today than when President Obama took office. This mammoth welfare program cost tax payers a whopping $74.6 billion in 2013.
The USDA has acknowledged that billions were spent on this program by mistake. In 2013 SNAP overpaid recipients $2.1 billion by accident. $500 million were spent on underpayments to other recipients as “other mistakes.” The total amount of “improper payments” in the food stamp program was $2.6 billion, the worst performance of any USDA program.
Those wasted billions could have restored all of the military veterans’ pension cuts in the latest budget legislation. That money could have housed thousands of homeless Americans for years.
According to the USDA, improper payments “were attributable to administrative and documentation error … [an] improper payment occurs when a participating household is certified for too many or too few benefits compared to the level for which they are eligible. This can result from incomplete or inaccurate reporting of income and/or assets by participants at the time of certification and from changes subsequent to certification, or errors in determining eligibility or benefits by caseworkers.”
The total number of misspent food stamp dollars is probably greater than $2.6 billion. According to the New York Times, the USDA Inspector General said in March that “officials with Food and Nutrition Service are aware that its baseline for estimates of improper payments may be unreliable.” In other words, “We know we’re wasting billions of taxpayer dollars, but we have no idea how much.” The result? Lots of waste and fraud; witness those ladies with their Louis Vuitton bags and EBT cards.
The lack of accountability within the SNAP program is baffling; such a blatant disregard for significant funds would never be tolerated in the free market. A private company that operated so recklessly would go out of business; at the very least, someone would be held accountable or fired.
But not if they work for the government. Bureaucrats in federal agencies are rarely held accountable for their failures. Bloated and incompetent agencies like those running Medicare, Medicaid, federal housing, and SNAP claim to need more money to operate effectively. You will never hear government bureaucrats say that they are sufficiently funded and don’t need any more money.
A significant portion of the budgeting and work within SNAP should be contracted out to companies in the private sector, which could be held accountable. The Department of Defense (DoD) does this frequently with some success. When the DoD needs work done, it reviews various offers from competing companies such as Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing. The business with the most promising plan is then given the contracting job. If the contractor fails to be effective, it can be financially penalized and may lose the contract the following year.
If these kinds of reforms were put into place within SNAP, there would finally be hope for restoring accountability to this out-of-control program.
The good news is that electronic media have made it easier to shine the light on government fraud, waste, and abuse wherever it is found. There is a growing awareness among young people that the government keeps punishing them. Idealistic youth, once enamored with big-government solutions, are witnessing the Obamacare train wreck, the trillions in federal debt they will be saddled with, and the inability of politicians to create real jobs out of thin air.
A support system for our society’s most vulnerable is essential. But entrusting the government to run every part of these programs, like SNAP, is a huge mistake that will cost us all dearly.
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