Reforming the Food Stamp Program

August 16, 2012

The farm bill is due for reauthorization, including the food stamp program, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP is the second largest and most rapidly growing welfare program, and current projections suggest that even with the eventual end of the economic stagnation, spending on SNAP will not decrease to prerecession levels, say Robert Rector, a senior research fellow, and Katherine Bradley, a research fellow, at the Heritage Foundation.

Aside from financial concerns, SNAP as a whole is poorly conceived. Unaffected by welfare reform in the 1990s, food stamps is an expensive, old-style entitlement program that discourages work, rewards idleness and promotes long-term dependence.

Recognizing these problems, Rector and Bradley recommend a number of reforms to the program that would allow it to continue to serve those who need it.

  • Congress should return food stamp spending to prerecession levels and cap future spending so that states are no longer implicitly encouraged to milk the program for local residents.
  • Control over SNAP should be transferred from the Department of Agriculture (which has little experience with welfare programs) to the Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Loopholes that allow people to apply despite certain assets and forms of income should be closed, reducing caseloads and costs.
  • Unlawful benefit overpayments should be reduced by acquiring more timely and accurate information about recipient earnings.
  • Able-bodied food stamp recipients should be required to work, prepare for work or at least look for a job as a condition of receiving aid -- a similar policy proved effective in reforming the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program in the 1990s.

These reforms are generally modeled on the 1990s welfare reform, which replaced the AFDC program with the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. That reform slowed the growth of welfare spending and increased employment while reducing both dependence and child poverty, and enjoyed widespread public support.

Source: Robert Rector and Katherine Bradley, "Reforming the Food Stamp Program," Heritage Foundation, July 25, 2012.

 

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