Opening Statements

Opening Statement: Ranking Member Dusty Johnson Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations Public Hearing: “The Potential Implications of Eliminating Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility for SNAP Households”

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Washington, June 20, 2019 | comments

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I appreciate you convening this hearing to discuss one of the most egregious and unnecessary loopholes in current food stamp policy.

Broad-based categorical eligibility is a sham. We will hear comments and questions that refer to administrative efficiencies. We will hear hyperbolic examples of how any changes to this policy decimate school lunch programs. Scare tactics and false advocacy do not mitigate what the true issue is—expanded eligibility for a program that should always be preserved for our most needy friends and neighbors. We need this program, and we need it to be effective.

By law, states must convey SNAP benefits to those enrolled in other federal aid programs. That makes sense. But through bloated regulatory language, states are permitted additional administrative flexibilities, which some states have abused. Take Vermont, where simply receiving a bookmark can convey SNAP eligibility.

Eligibility can be granted via a line on an application, a pamphlet with information not relevant to the household applying, even a brochure about services they may not even qualify for. Pieces of paper funded by a broad-purpose block grant that in and of itself has problems. But that’s a conversation for another day.

I am looking at Rob Undersander, the “Minnesota Millionaire” —Mr. Undersander, welcome—a man with assets in the millions who was able to receive more than a nominal SNAP benefit month after month because of Minnesota’s abuses of their “administrative flexibility.” Mr. Undersander is not alone

A report prepared for the USDA found that most income-eligible households with financial resources that exceed the federal resource limit have more than $20,000 in countable assets. One in five had more than $100,000 in assets, including tens of thousands of households with more than $1 million in assets.

Mr. Undersander didn’t lie on his forms, he exposed the flaws of a failed system. It’s not his fault that our nation’s checks and balances don’t work. Receiving a welfare check shouldn’t be easier than applying for a job. If millionaires are receiving these benefits, this committee has work to do.

Defenders of this outlandish regulatory flexibility claim it reduces administrative costs, and that doing anything—anything—to change it would increase costs to both the federal government and states. There is no evidence that leaving this policy in place saves money. In fact, most state administrative costs are because of program enrollment. So, the more enrolled, the higher the cost. As a matter of fact, closing this loophole could reduce administrative costs by up to $660 million per year. And I like to look at it through a different lens—$660 million to reinvest in other SNAP-related services and supports.  

I sit on the Education and Labor Committee where just a few weeks ago, a (fake) nexus was discussed as it relates to this policy and school lunch. What we never heard is that even if the proposal were to alter regulatory language related to categorical eligibility, over 99.9 percent of children receiving free or reduced lunch would remain eligible. I think we forget that the National School Lunch Program is not based on SNAP eligibility. It has its own eligibility requirements.

Lastly, proponents talk about administrative burden to the recipient. I would like to ask—on the record—for my colleagues to host a hearing on technology. There are a variety of innovations—used today across other programs— that significantly ease the application process and that do not involve statutory manipulation.

Let’s have that conversation.

So, I welcome our witnesses and look forward to their testimony. With that I yield, Madam Chair.

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