MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

June 16, 2013

Lawmakers seek to reduce SNAP

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— It appears local experts whose work includes efforts to address food insecurity in eastern Oklahoma won’t get any help from the state’s congressional delegation.

The U.S. Senate passed a farm bill this past week that would cut funding to a major nutrition program upon which millions of Americans rely. A similar bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, who represents Oklahoma’s 3rd Congressional District, would slash food stamp benefits even more.

Senate Bill 954, which was opposed by Sens. Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe, would cut Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by $4.1 billion during the next 10 years. Inhofe introduced an amendment to the farm bill that, if approved, would have repealed “nutrition entitlement programs” altogether and establish a nutrition assistance block grant program.

An Inhofe aide said the state’s senior senator has been consistent with his criticism of expanding SNAP benefits. He said SNAP recipients have doubled to almost 50 million, making it hard to know exactly how food stamps are being used.

The aide, speaking on background, said Inhofe recognizes a need to provide some assistance. Inhofe, however, would rather give states control of the program, which would allow them to be tailored to meet needs unique to each state.

Coburn introduced 13 amendments to the Senate farm bill, all of them aimed at reducing wasteful spending and duplication. A Coburn spokesman said the amendments, of which only one was considered, also would have prevented exploitation of farm subsidy programs and reformed the food stamp program.

The spokesman said Coburn believes SNAP can be strategically reformed to reduce costs without posing hardships for beneficiaries. Coburn believes “many federal anti-hunger programs waste billions of dollars on duplication, low-priority spending, fraud, abuse and bureaucratic mismanagement.”

One amendment offered by Coburn would have consolidated the overlap and applied any resulting savings toward assistance to individuals and families through programs that have proven to be effective. The amendment never made it to a vote.

U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, who represents the 2nd Congressional District, said there remains “a significant amount of details to discuss” regarding the farm bill introduced in the House. Mullin, however, expressed concern about fraud and abuse within SNAP.

Mullin said experts project food stamp fraud will cost taxpayers about $2.9 billion this year.  That abuse, he said, affects all taxpayers.

“Every government program, whether SNAP or any other agency that provides benefits for those in need, must be run efficiently and free from abuse and fraud,” Mullin said. “We need to help those that can’t work rather than those that won’t work.”

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.