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House Subcommittee Holds SNAP Hearing

On July 24, the House Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, and Nutrition held a hearing on the role of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in relation to other federal assistance programs.

Robert Doar, Morgridge fellow in poverty studies, American Enterprise Institute, stated, “The use of broad-based categorical eligibility to allow SNAP programs to waive the asset test has been a mistake…A limit of $10,000 in assets (not including primary residence and a car) seems to me to be appropriate. I say this for two reasons: first, by refusing to allow SNAP offices to investigate assets, applicants who have assets are able to avoid declaring them. This encourages people who do not want to lie on a government form to take advantage of the program and apply for assistance they do not really need. Second, a central principle of government assistance for the poor should be that applicants and recipients should be encouraged to first use their own resources and efforts to help themselves and their families before they turn to government. Ending the asset test has encouraged abuse, and discouraged personal responsibility. Residents of public housing often do not have utility expenses billed directly to them. Those costs are supported by the rent they pay and the subsidy they receive to keep their rent low. These same residents may also be in need of SNAP assistance, which they should be able to receive. However, to artificially increase the amount of their SNAP benefit by suggesting that they have burdensome utility expenses when, in reality, they do not, is a gimmick that is unfair to both the SNAP program and the thousands of LIHEAP [Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program] recipients who do have utility expenses which are only partially offset by LIHEAP assistance.”

“SNAP targets benefits on those most in need and least able to afford an adequate diet,” stated Stacy Dean, vice president for food assistance policy, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). She continued, “Its benefit formula considers a household’s income level as well as its essential expenses, such as rent, medicine, and child care. Although a family’s total income is the most important factor affecting its ability to purchase food, it is not the only factor. For example, a family spending two-thirds of its income on rent and utilities will have less money to buy food than a family that has the same income but lives in public or subsidized housing. While the targeting of benefits adds some complexity to the program, it helps ensure that SNAP provides the most assistance to the poorest families with the greatest needs. These features make SNAP a powerful tool in fighting poverty. A CBPP analysis using the government’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, which counts SNAP as income, found that SNAP kept 4.9 million people out of poverty in 2012, including 2.2 million children. SNAP lifted 1.4 million children above 50 percent of the poverty line in 2012, more than any other benefit program.” She later stated that “The percentage of SNAP benefit dollars issued to ineligible households or to eligible households in excessive amounts fell for the seventh consecutive year in 2013 to 2.61 percent, newly released USDA data show.”

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