Democratic Lawmaker Says Benefit in $74 Billion Food Stamp Program is ‘Too Low’

By Ali Meyer | May 20, 2015 | 8:17pm EDT
Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Mass. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

( – The federal government food stamp program benefit is “too low,” Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) said during a House Committee on Agriculture hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday. According to the Department of Agriculture, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program cost $74,137,240,000 in 2014.

“Let me say something that should be crystal clear to all of my colleagues: the SNAP benefit is too low,” McGovern said.

“It is not enough to take care of the food and nutrition needs of those on the benefit. SNAP recipients must rely on food banks and charities to have enough food for the month.”

Speaking during a hearing entitled, “Past, Present and Future of SNAP: The World of Nutrition, Government Duplication and Unmet Needs,” McGovern also took aim at food banks.

“I would like to have a discussion about how we put food banks out of business and one of the ways to do this is to make sure that those who need SNAP have an adequate benefit,” he said.

“A lot of my frustrations over the last few years is that I think Congress has been so focused on trying to demonize the program and try to find some fault with the program, even when there’s no fault.”

McGovern asked panelists taking part in the hearing if the food stamp benefit was adequate to meet basic needs.

“I do believe that the SNAP benefit is adequate for a large number of households that are participating,” said Angela Rachidi, a research fellow in poverty studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

“For a family of four it is $650 dollars a month and that’s the maximum benefit,” she said. “We did a study in New York City where we looked at benefit redemption patterns over the month and we found that the majority of families actually did not spend down their benefit levels early in the month and still had benefits left over at the end of the month.”

Rachidi said the government’s food assistance programs were “an important part of our nation’s safety net.”

At the same time, however, “spending on food assistance programs has grown substantially over the past three decades, most dramatically in the past several years, in absolute terms as well as relative to other means-tested programs.”

Committee chairwoman Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) also voiced concern about the cost of the program and overlap of food nutrition programs.

“According to GAO, there are at least 18 different nutrition assistance programs, and together they spend over $100 billion annually of taxpayer funds,” she said. “While SNAP accounts for three out of four dollars of that today, it’s not alone in providing nutrition assistance.”

“The reality is that a majority of SNAP households are also eligible and receive benefits from one of the other major nutrition assistance programs,” Walorski added. “In some cases, multiple programs might be funding the same meals. For example, recipients may receive USDA commodity food packages through the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, while also receiving SNAP benefits.”

“Our job today is to figure out where overlap, duplication, or inefficiency exists,” Walorski said. “Then, we can more expertly target our limited resources to places with potential unmet needs or weaknesses in the system.”

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