States Deliberately Qualify Non-Poor People for Food Stamps to Get Federal Money; Obama Administration Blocks Reforms

As a Bloomberg News commentary notes, large numbers of people who are not poor are getting food stamps, due to perverse incentives that encourage states to deliberately classify people as eligible in order to draw federal money to their state.  People are eligible in some states even if they are not poor at all, but merely received an “informational brochure” for welfare, or a tiny amount of state money that the state deliberately gave them that they didn’t even need, in order to qualify them for food stamps:

As the article notes, food stamp rolls have risen by 29 million people in recent years:

[A] troubling reason for the increase is that state governments have found it easy to get their constituents federal money — that is, money mostly raised from current and future taxpayers in other states — by making more people eligible for food stamps. According to a mid-2010 report from the Government Accountability Office, 35 states have no limit on the amount of assets a food-stamp recipient can possess. More and more states — the count was 36 at the time of the report — are providing “categorical eligibility” for food stamps to anyone who receives welfare services. Merely getting an informational brochure from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program counts as receiving a service.

Another way that states and localities can get federal money flowing to them is by providing token amounts of assistance with home heating bills. Even a dollar of energy subsidies can make someone eligible for food stamps, or increase the benefit level for someone already on SNAP. Vermont, for example, sends $5 checks to public-housing residents, even though their subsidized rent already covers heating, to qualify them for food stamps. Liberal activists call this strategy for getting federal money “heat and eat.”

The Obama administration didn’t create these perverse incentives, but it did magnify them (in legislation such as the $800 billion stimulus package, which largely repealed the 1996 welfare-reform law, as Slate’s Mickey Kaus and the Heritage Foundation have noted). The Obama administration is busy cracking down on states that attempt to reduce food stamp fraud, as James Bovard noted in The Wall Street Journal. Food stamp fraud costs America billions of dollars. This is remarkable, since eligibility requirements are so lax that no fraud is even needed for many undeserving people to collect food stamps. As Bovard noted in the Journal, the Obama administration has encouraged states to abolish asset tests for food stamps, leaving even unemployed millionaires able to qualify: “Millionaires are now legally entitled to collect food stamps as long as they have little or no monthly income. Thirty-five states have abolished asset tests for most food-stamp recipients. These and similar ‘paperwork reduction’ reforms advocated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) are turning the food-stamp program into a magnet for abuses and absurdities.” There are now a record 47 million people on food stamps.

As the Bloomberg article notes, some Republican lawmakers want able-bodied adult food stamp recipients “to abide by work requirements,” “but the Obama administration hasn’t been interested.”

If food stamp handouts were low in dollar value — just enough to avoid hunger — middle-class people who don’t need them wouldn’t find it worthwhile to apply for them. But food stamps are not stingy, which is why growing numbers of people who are in no danger of ever going hungry have applied for them, and now receive them. Recently, “The average food stamp benefit was $133.80 per person” — which is more than I spent on food as a bachelor — “and $283.65 per household”  — which is more than my family typically spends on food in a month.

Earlier, I wrote about how it is not difficult to live on a food stamps budget. The Washington Post ran a story in its health section about how various people, such as the chef for a law firm and a natural foods store owner, were able to live quite well on a food stamps budget. For example, Rick Hindle, executive chef for the Skadden, Arps law firm “showed recently that you don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen to prepare healthful food for $1 or less per meal.”

To divert attention from this fact, liberal groups have created something called the “Food Stamp Challenge.” This “challenge” is a misleading PR exercise where a wealthy liberal like a high-paid bureaucrat or congressman who is used to spending huge amounts on food, lives for a week on a food stamp budget and stupidly buys junk food (or nothing but bread or pasta) rather than cheaper nutritious foods (like potatoes) in order to falsely make it seem like it is hard to eat on a food stamps budget (even though, as Warren Kozak notes in the Wall Street Journal, hunger is virtually non-existent in America). The only thing this bogus “food stamp challenge” actually shows is that privileged people who eat out in restaurants all the time are often unaware of what nutritious foods are cheapest; or they stupidly think that cheap  nutritious foods, like baked potatoes, are unhealthy, or not as good as white bread or pasta, even though baked potatoes, unlike white bread or pasta, have all 8 essential amino acids, and lots of vitamins and minerals, like 40 percent of your day’s supply of vitamin C, potassium, and B vitamins. This ignorance about food is shared by the Obama administration:  So great is its nutritional ignorance that it banned white potatoes from the WIC program, even as it permitted food stamps to be used for sugary sodas, and used tax dollars to subsidize junk food and fatty and sugary foods.

Meanwhile, the cost of the food stamp program has exploded.  As Bovard pointed out, the costs of the food stamp program have more than doubled since 2007 to $77 billion from $33 billion even as fraud has soared:

Wisconsin food-stamp recipients routinely sell their benefit cards on Facebook . . . ‘nearly 2,000 recipients claimed they lost their card six or more times in 2010 and requested replacements.’ USDA rules require that lost cards be speedily replaced . . . Thirty percent of the inmates in the Polk County, Iowa, jail were collecting food stamps that were being sent to their non-jail mailing addresses in 2009 . . . The Obama administration is responding by cracking down on state governments’ antifraud measures. The administration is seeking to compel California, New York and Texas to cease requiring food-stamp applicants to provide finger images. The food-stamp poster boy of 2011 is 59-year-old Leroy Fick. After Mr. Fick won a $2 million lottery jackpot, the Michigan Department of Human Services ruled he could continue receiving food stamps . . . ‘the winnings were considered ‘assets’ [rather than income] and aren’t counted in determining food stamp eligibility.’