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U.S. Rep. McGovern's 18th End Hunger Now Speech: Fraud, Waste, Abuse

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Washington, DC, July 17, 2013 | comments

July 17, 2013

M. Speaker – eighteen times this year I’ve come to this floor and talked about the need to End Hunger Now. Eighteen times I’ve defended our nation’s anti-hunger programs, discussed the paradox of hunger and obesity, and talked about hunger among the elderly.

Over the past few weeks, this House has voted on two versions of a Farm Bill reauthorization. The first was defeated after the Republican leadership overreached not only by cutting the lynchpin of our anti-hunger programs, SNAP – formerly known as food stamps – but also by adding poison pill after poison pill amendment to the bill. Last week, the Republican leadership responded to the stinging defeat of their Farm Bill by stripping out the entire nutrition title while, at the same time, expanding subsidies for highly profitable big agribusinesses. And by the way, the nutrition title not only includes SNAP – it includes, as well, funding for food banks and senior anti-hunger programs.

Opponents of SNAP like to focus on the idea that SNAP is fraudulent; not just that some SNAP money is being misspent but that so much is being wasted that we need to drastically reign in the program – regardless of whether SNAP cuts increase hunger in America. We heard these claims time after time during consideration of the two farm bills.

Sadly, those who claimed rampant fraud, waste and abuse in SNAP don’t let facts get in the way of their arguments.  That’s because SNAP is among the most effective and efficient – if not the most effective and efficient – federally administered programs. I serve on the House Agriculture Committee and I took part in an extensive debate over SNAP during both the Committee mark-up and on the House floor.   Not one Member – Democrat or Republican – on the House Agriculture Committee provided sourced, statistical information on fraud, waste and abuse in the SNAP program. No hearings were held on the SNAP program.  In fact, I challenged any Member of the Committee to find any federal program that has a lower rate of fraud, waste and abuse. The truth is, no one could answer my challenge.

M. Speaker, according to both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Office of the Inspector General at USDA, the fraud rates for SNAP are at all time lows and are going down. On top of that, USDA continues to pursue instances of fraud, waste and abuse and is prosecuting these cases.

Despite the rapid growth in SNAP participation, primarily due to the historic economic recession we’re still recovering from, the error rate for SNAP is also at a record low, according to the latest data available. Specifically, 3 percent of all SNAP benefits represented overpayments, meaning they either went to ineligible households or went to eligible households but in excessive amounts. This means more than 98% of SNAP benefits were issued to eligible households. And the combined error rate – the total error rate that includes both under- and over-payments – reached an all time low in 2011, falling to 3.8 percent.

These statistics show just how well SNAP is truly managed.  But there’s even more data to consider.  In July, the USDA’s Office of the Inspector General issued a report on fraud investigations of USDA programs.  It showed that fraud in SNAP is limited, primarily to a few bad actors.  It also showed cases of fraud are far greater in other USDA programs.

According to this report, 10 cases involving USDA programs were closed in the past two months, and only one of them involved fraud on the part of a SNAP recipient. That’s right, only one case in ten had to do with an individual defrauding SNAP.

In fact, half of those cases dealt with improper use of Rural Development funds. The remaining four cases all involved SNAP abuse by retailers, not recipients.

While this may seem like an innocuous statistic, it goes to the heart of what opponents claim – that SNAP beneficiaries – poor, hungry working Americans – are lazy and want to steal from the federal government. Nothing could be further from the truth.

SNAP provides a lifeline to hungry Americans – whether they are 1, 10, 25, 50, 75 years old or older. And in doing so, SNAP is likely the most effective and efficient program administered by the federal government.

M. Speaker, of course we can make SNAP better. We can make it more efficient. We can ensure that even more people get the food they need to prevent hunger in America. But we need to address hunger in a holistic and comprehensive way, including the role SNAP plays in preventing and treating hunger.  This is why we need a White House Conference on Food and Nutrition if we’re going to truly reduce hunger and improve nutrition in this country.

M. Speaker, attacking SNAP – and demonizing those who rely on it to make ends meet – isn’t just wrong, it’s counterproductive. Arbitrarily cutting SNAP will only make hunger in America worse and it certainly won’t reduce the rates of fraud, waste and abuse. The SNAP program works.  While it can always be improved, we can’t simply cut our way to a hunger-free society. We must work together if we’re going End Hunger Now.

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