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Cramer Op-Ed: Food Stamp Reforms Advance the Dignity of Work

Sep 20, 2013
Press Release

The news reports of young surfers in California who use food stamps to maintain a work-free lifestyle. Serious damage is being done to a program originally designed to help those in need.

To restore the integrity and solvency of nutrition assistance, the House passed several important reforms this week as part of the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act. They are worth explaining in detail.

First, our bill requires President Obama to finally enforce the bipartisan 1996 welfare reforms to food stamps. The law Bill Clinton advocated for and signed states if you are an able-bodied adult aged 18 to 50 without dependent children, you should have a job, be looking for a job, be training for a job, or perform community service in order to receive government benefits. The President has been handing out exemptions to this law since 2009. We can generate $20 billion in savings by ending these waivers while encouraging able-bodied people to work.

Second, we closed a loophole which automatically extends food stamp benefits to anyone who so much as receives a government brochure or calls a toll-free hotline, regardless of their income or assets. This “categorical eligibility”, allows lottery winners and millionaires to receive food stamps. Our bill doesn’t change income requirements. It simply requires people to actually meet them in order to qualify.

These reforms save a modest 5.1 percent over a ten year period in a program that has doubled in spending since Barack Obama became President by simply enforcing existing eligibility requirements for food stamps. They are critical if we are going to protect a program intended to serve our most vulnerable citizens including seniors, children, and the disabled. These individuals shouldn’t have to foot the bill just so able-bodied adults can receive benefits without work.

Our reforms to food stamps also address the larger benefits of work and its value to the human spirit.

No one said it better than the President who understood North Dakota best. Theodore Roosevelt in his 1913 autobiography wrote:

“We knew toil and hardship and hunger and thirst…but we felt the beat of hardy life in our veins, and ours was the glory of work and the joy of living.”

When did America become a country where working for benefits is no longer noble?

Why should we promote a culture of permanent dependency over the integrity of a job?

At the very least, we need to examine a program that’s doubled in spending in just five years.

Like the agriculture piece of the farm bill, the food stamp program has been given a transparent debate in Congress. Both bills passed the House, and it is now up to the Senate and our President to restore the solvency of nutrition assistance while advancing the dignity of work.