Congressman Lucas: Food stamps cuts won’t keep hungry from getting help
Filed by KOSU News in Feature.
June 12, 2013
The US Senate has already started debate on a five year farm bill – about 75 percent is food stamps and nutrition programs, the rest for agriculture. On the House side, a bill championed by Oklahoma Representative Frank Lucas is through his Agriculture Committee, cutting more than $20 billion from food stamps, and $33 billion overall in the next 10 years. Click above to hear the interview (with an extended Q and A on the cost estimates and politics of the farm bill), or read on.
I first asked the Congressman how much confidence he had that despite cuts to food stamps, everyone who needed help would get it.
“Well first of all, look at what we proposed in the way of our reforms: we end categorical eligibility. Under present federal law, virtually all states are using the flexibility of the 1996 welfare reform act to say that if you qualify for any federal welfare benefit, you automatically get food stamps.
“What we simply say in the bill is everyone needs to demonstrate their asset and income levels to meet the requirements of the basic food stamp provisions. If you do, you get help.
“I’m confident that most of the folks who have been covered under automatically eligibility who qualify will be helped.”
But an administrator in Oklahoma’s food stamps program says they deny 27 people a month among 30,000 applications. Is that enough for 20.5 billion in cuts in 10 years?
“Those are the numbers provided to me by the Congressional Budget Office, CBO, that scores these things. They say 20.5 billion, and it’s not just categorical eligibility, that’s about 12 billion. There’s about 8 billion that come from the LIHEAP program, some people call it heat and eat, where a dozen states or so use the flexibility of the 1996 law to say that if we help you heat your home to the tune of a dollar a month, then you automatically qualify for a full month’s worth of food stamps.
“We say in that situation, states you can still do that, but you’ve got to put 20 dollars per person to help heat their homes and then you qualify for food stamps, that’s 8 billion.
“While I can’t say with certainty on how CBO scores their stuff, I would agree with you. A number of folks who are eligible under categorical eligibility now or even under LIHEAP will still get assistance. It just means they’re going to have to prove on an individual basis they qualify, and in that other case, the states are going to have to spend a little more money before they get all that money from the federal government.”
What about the administrative burden? Do you think doing all that paperwork is worth denying 27 people a month?
“I think if you’re going to have standards for a program, you need to enforce those standards. If the goal of food stamps is to buy everybody’s meal on every occasion in the country, then repeal the income and asset requirement. But if your goal is to help those who need help and you’re wanting and willing to define who they are, then you need to follow the definitions you’ve established.
But that’s less than one tenth of one percent, do you think it will be worth it?
“Let’s just put it this way, if that is indeed the case. Then the advocacy groups up here, the lobbying groups who say we’ll throw millions off the food stamp rolls are wrong, aren’t they? They’re howling about something that won’t occur, if that’s indeed the case. I don’t know, all I can do is take CBO at their word. Try to establish policy that follows federal law, implement it, and then we’ll see what the results are.”
Direct payments to farmers will get cut, but most accept that. Will farmers feel pain equivalent to those who receive food stamps?
“Farm bills are not to make the good times better, farm bills are about, making sure in tough times, when farmers can’t control the circumstances, world trade issues, the weather, pests, a lot of those kinda things, that the farm bill is there to provide a safety net. If the weather cooperates, there will be very little paid out. And yes, farmers will continue to pay in their insurance premiums to be a part of crop insurance every year, it’s only in bad times.
“But then isn’t that what insurance is for, whether it’s life insurance, property insurance, all these other forms of insurance ? It’s not for the good times, it’s when bad things happen when you have no control over circumstances.”
Pays out when bad times come, but supply and demand?
“All I can say is you take out a product that is designed to provide certain benefits and if you play by the rules, so be it. But the same argument could be, every time you have a hurricane on the coasts, it wipes out all the houses. Insurance comes in and pays for the houses , they build new houses. The value of real estate on the coasts goes even higher. It’s not just federal crop insurance that has these kind of unique circumstances, it’s federal flood insurance, it’s hurricane stuff, the insurance programs we provide on the federal level, the backstop to big insurance companies to address terrorism attacks, all those things.
“If you’re going to look at the apples, you’ve got to look at all the oranges and peaches too.”