Ted Yoho: Closing the Gap Between Welfare and Work
Recently, there have been a variety of stories in the news reflecting extensive fraud and abuse of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps). In New Jersey alone, a grocery store employee admitted he took part in a $1.9 million SNAP fraud scheme, and separately, a couple admitted to exchanging over $4.5 million in SNAP benefits for cash across a period of four years. In Massachusetts, an individual used 75 different Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards to buy over $250,000 in food for his wife’s restaurant.
Unfortunately, Democrats and their pro-status quo advocacy allies have tried to convince Americans that SNAP fraud is an insignificant problem. Here in Jacksonville, however, more than 200 individuals were identified as taking part in food stamp fraud in just six short months, many of whom were able-bodied adults. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report that showed instances of benefit trafficking range from $960 million to $4.7 billion per year, which would make it over 7 percent of total SNAP spending – spending that has exceeded $60 billion annually over the past nine years.
While retailer and individual fraud and abuse are certainly problematic, these issues do not end at that level. One of the most flagrant and concerning abuses of this vital program occurs at the state level, where states manipulate data to waive large groups of individuals from the requirement to work, train, or volunteer.
Currently, more than one-third of the country has these waivers in place. Fortunately, this abuse is not seen in Florida as our state does not use waivers. But states like California have successfully waived 55 out of 58 counties using old data and gerrymandered regions. This is especially concerning because in 2014 California had 49 out of 58 counties with an unemployment rate over 6 percent, yet today there are only 28 counties in the state with an unemployment rate above 6 percent. With the U.S. unemployment rate at a historic low, this type of waiver exploitation by states must end. In fact, the Trump administration recently proposed to reign in exploited regulatory language that has long waived the time limit – and subsequently the work requirement – for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) receiving SNAP benefits. The underlying law regarding ABAWD waivers is vague and has resulted in past administrations improperly exploiting the associated regulations.
This administration’s regulatory proposal prevents states from manipulating data and gerrymandering regions – practices states have come to know through leftist advocacy groups who pride themselves on a more robust welfare state. The proposal is simple: it modifies how states can seek these waivers, with an emphasis on the booming economy, available jobs, and training opportunities. It also requires states to use more relevant and timely data.
Today, we are seeing historically low unemployment, and jobless claims have dropped to their lowest level since 1969. Coupled with average earnings nearing $28 per hour and over 3.2 million new jobs created, these positive indicators should bring hope for those looking to move from welfare to work. It is high time to stop marginalizing those receiving SNAP by incentivizing work in exchange for benefits from our most capable recipients.
Democrats have tried to convince Americans that certain populations are incapable of work. However, in practice, three states that established mandatory minimum work requirements for ABAWDs – Florida, Maine, and Alabama – saw their ABAWD SNAP enrollment decrease by 94 percent, 90 percent and 85 percent respectively. Instead of stigmatizing the work capability of individuals who fall under the ABAWD category as the Democrats are doing, we should recognize work as an American value that we need to help all achieve. And by moving forward with the administration’s proposal we are that much closer to closing the gap between welfare and work, ultimately moving people into a vibrant middle class who are capable of reaching their American Dream. And I for one will not stop working to expose SNAP fraud; I want to ensure this program’s integrity is protected because I know from personal experience that this program is a vital lifeline to our most vulnerable friends and neighbors.
First elected to Congress in 2012, U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., sits on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee.