GOP Senator to USDA: Stop Promoting Food Stamps

October 11, 2012 - 8:58 AM

Food Stamps

U.S. Department of Agriculture SNAP program (food stamp) card. (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) - Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) is demanding that the U.S. Department of Agriculture stop promoting food stamp usage in poor and immigrant communities. In a letter to the agency, Sessions cited USDA promotional programs aimed at recruiting new food stamp recipients.

“Your letter asserts that 'we do not pressure any eligible person to accept benefits, nor is our goal to simply increase the number of program participants,'" Sessions wrote to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack on October 9. "But the content of USDA’s advertisements and promotion campaigns demonstrate otherwise.”

Sessions, ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, has been investigating USDA’s efforts to promote food stamp usage throughout the summer, focusing on a partnership with the Mexican government to promote food stamp usage among Mexican immigrants living in the United States.

Uncovered during that investigation were materials that seemed to point to a broader effort at USDA to promote food stamp usage among poor people generally, which Sessions pointed to in his letter to Vilsack.

“Your department provides a document on how to 'overcome the word "No" and rewarded a recruitment worker for overcoming people’s ‘mountain pride.’ There is even a promotional guide suggesting those targeted for enrollment harm their communities by not accepting benefits,” Sessions said.

Sessions then demanded that USDA halt all efforts at recruiting poor people onto the food stamp rolls.

“I would therefore ask that you at once eliminate all materials, training and recruitment efforts that contradict your above statement.

“It is time to restore the moral principles of the 1996 welfare reform law. Envisioning welfare benefits as temporary programs to assist those in need achieve financial independence is the compassionate goal for sound policy.”

In an earlier letter to Sessions, Vilsack said that USDA did not pressure people to enroll in the food stamp program, but rather sought to “help” them make the most informed choice possible.

“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 in a letter obtained by the Daily Caller.

However, Sessions pointed out that not only has USDA produced Spanish-language advertisements encouraging people to use food stamps, it has sent documents to state welfare agencies offering what it calls “promising practices” to “help increase participation” in food stamp programs.

Among these “promising practices” were examples of using Public Service Announcements, having volunteers go door-to-door, and putting food stamp application information in places like soup kitchens or food banks to increase poor people’s exposure to the program.