As a Member of the House Committee on Agriculture, I have sat through too many hearings on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Fourteen since February 2015, to be exact.
Yet, none of these hearings have resulted in any meaningful action for the program. Instead, they are exercises in futility, operating on misconceptions and perpetuating stereotypes.
Perhaps the most common misconception of the program is that it is plagued with fraud and abuse. But, let's be clear: SNAP is working and its beneficiaries aren't cheating the system.
In FY 2015, SNAP reached one in seven Americans. That's more than 45 million people nationwide. In the same year, more than 42 percent of participants were in working families and nearly 30 percent were in families with members who are elderly or have disabilities.
According to the (CBPP) SNAP has, "one of the most rigorous quality control systems of any public benefit program." The national payment error rate, which calculates both overpayments and underpayments, stands at only three percent, which is among the lowest of all federal public benefit programs, and primarily due to administrative error. Similarly, the error rate attributable to trafficking, or the sale of benefits for cash or other ineligible items, is one percent.
Policy reforms to "combat fraud" based on such low statistics are an overreaction to a problem that isn't really there. Administrative corrections, if needed, would be a more appropriate response.
Let's be clear: SNAP is working, and its beneficiaries aren't cheating the system.
Another misconception of the program is the idea that SNAP benefits are too generous. Some of my colleagues have suggested that recipients request fewer benefits than they are eligible for to save the federal government money. This suggestion shows a complete lack of compassion for families, children and older Americans.
SNAP has stringent financial, work-related, and categorical eligibility requirements. Anyone who qualifies for the program needs the approximate $1.40 per meal per person they may receive. Any suggestion that SNAP recipients would opt to receive fewer SNAP dollars is unlikely.
"Tyranny of the moment," or spending all benefits as soon as they are received, is another common point of debate. To address this, Committee Members propose loading smaller amounts on EBT cards more frequently to prevent "overspending."
Loading fewer benefits multiple times during the month does not solve the problem of people running out of benefits in 2½ to 3 weeks, on average. Benefits run out because they are inadequate. Is an average of $1.40 per meal enough to purchase fresh produce, protein, and other healthy foods? No, it isn't. I know because I tried it for a week in 2011 when the average per meal benefit was $1.50, and that was very difficult.
If my colleagues really want to help feed Americans, they should look at ways to make SNAP better. Unfortunately, each attempt to truly support our food assistance programs has been blocked before it could gain momentum.
It is clear there is a master plan in motion. But, hunger is not a game. For too many in my district, it is a matter of life and death.
We must debunk these myths, and take steps toward strengthening SNAP for those who need it the most. To quote Franklin D. Roosevelt, "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."