February 23, 2015
Washington Times
Editorial

Food stamp waste drains $858 million annually from the program

Food stamp fraud is a scandal that should give every taxpayer, Democrat, Republican or rogue of no particular partisan persuasion, a severe case of indigestion. Rep. Matt Salmon, Arizona Republican, wants to take a bite out of it.

He is the chief sponsor of the SNAP Verify Act of 2015, which aims to root out nearly $1 billion a year in fraud in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (hence SNAP), the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s formal name for the food stamp program.

Mr. Salmon’s bill, H.R. 733, introduced this month, would amend the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 to require a member or representative of a household that receives such benefits to show photographic identification at grocery stores when using a food stamp electronic benefits transfer card, or debit card. A similar bill, S. 57, the Food Stamp Fraud Prevention and Accountability Act, was introduced last month in the Senate by Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican.

The House bill has 13 co-sponsors, all of them Republicans. Apparently, no Democrats are troubled by the $858 million fraud in the food stamp program. The bill for this spending has exploded on President Obama’s watch, from $50.35 billion in 2009 to $70 billion in 2014. The number of food stamp recipients has ballooned by 38.8 percent, from 33.5 million to 46.5 million.

The $878 million figure is the USDA’s own fraud estimate. Although it represents less than 2 percent of spending on food stamp benefits, it can’t be dismissed cavalierly as a rounding error or something “good enough for government work.”

Rep. Jim Bridenstine, Oklahoma Republican, defends the photo-ID measure from the big spenders in Congress and their interest-group allies, who have never seen an entitlement they didn’t want to grow, notwithstanding the waste, fraud and abuse that invariably accompany welfare benefits programs.

“I think it’s perfectly appropriate when the taxpayers are losing almost $1 billion a year to fraud in the SNAP program,” Mr. Bridenstine said. “I think it’s perfectly appropriate to require a low hurdle like an ID.”

Requiring food stores to check the photo ID of anyone using a food stamp debit card would benefit legitimate recipients, he says, by weeding out cheaters who sell their allocations for cash. This would preserve the funding for the truly needy, but not the truly greedy.

Backers of the crackdown anticipate the resurrection of arguments against laws requiring an ID to vote, that the SNAP Verify Act would hit minorities and the poor hardest because they are less likely to have photographic identification. But that argument is just as paternalistic and condescending when invoked in this instance as when it’s used against voter-ID requirements. This suggests that minorities and the poor are incapable of obtaining proper identification. It’s what President George W. Bush in another context rightly called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

“Photo-ID” is required for dozens of everyday transactions, including cashing a check and renting an apartment. Only a hermit deep in the Appalachians might succeed in living on nuts, berries and the occasional squirrel without such an ID. Obtaining an ID is a one-time requirement. It’s the least a recipient should be expected to provide in exchange for groceries earned by the toil of others.

“Usually, to qualify for food stamps, you have to go through a qualification process, and whether it’s in person or over the phone, you have to identify yourself in some capacity,” argues Mr. Bridenstine. “The challenge is, after you get the food stamps, you no longer have to be identified when you use them.”

Deeply liberal Massachusetts is already ahead of the federal bureaucrats in pursuing food stamp fraud, using a slightly different approach. Since 2013, it has been putting SNAP recipients’ photographs on their debit cards. Whatever works. But fraud cannot be tolerated if charity survives.

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