House committee releases SNAP report

by Erica Shaffer
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WASHINGTON – The House Committee on Agriculture released a comprehensive review of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the result of 16 hearings over the past two years. The report strives to identify the populations served by SNAP, how cash and non-cash benefits are used, and how the program can be improved.

Rep. K. Michael Conaway, committee chairman, said in a statement at the beginning of the report, that the review of SNAP, the populations served by the program and the program’s inner-workings were important as the 115th Congress prepares to reauthorize the program.

“You will find nothing in this report that suggests gutting SNAP or getting rid of a program that does so much to serve so many,” Conaway wrote. “What you will find are a number of ways the program is working successfully and a number of areas in need of improvement. You will find areas for innovation, for adjustment, for education and training, and for rethinking the best ways to serve those in need.”

Among the findings:

  • SNAP serves a diverse demographic, and the program must adapt to meet the needs of each recipient. The number of programs serving low-income households has created overlaps and gaps in services.
  • Unemployment and underemployment are leading causes of poverty, and promoting pathways to employment is the best way to help individuals become self-sufficient. However, SNAP recipients may face a “welfare cliff” when they are just above the income eligibility level, which can create disincentives to finding work or increasing earnings. This is due to the combination of other welfare programs.
  • SNAP fraud rates can be improved through innovative state and federal strategies and technologies. Data availability — with robust privacy protections — is a key concern in ensuring SNAP is functioning as intended.
  • Americans in urban and rural communities cannot improve their diets without adequate access to healthy food and nutrition education.

Commenting on the report, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said SNAP provides a critical nutrition safety net for millions of Americans, “and we need to do all we can to protect and strengthen the program so it can continue effectively serving American families in need,” he said in a statement.

“Four out of five SNAP participants are children, seniors, people with disabilities, or working adults,” he continued. “SNAP reduces food insecurity, increases access to healthy food, and generates economic activity and creates jobs all along the supply chain — from the store where food is purchased, all the way back to the farmer who produces it. The program has also been shown to have a positive impact on children’s health, academic performance, and long-run economic self-sufficiency. SNAP rewards work with benefits that decrease gradually as earnings increase, and SNAP Employment & Training helps participants build the skills they need to get good-paying jobs and move off the program the right way.”

The report didn’t include recommendations for radical changes to the program, but Vilsack warned against converting SNAP into a block grant.

“Proposals to convert SNAP into a block grant are misguided and would mean the program could no longer respond to economic conditions and serve all eligible Americans without drastically reducing benefits,” he said. “As Congress begins working on the 2018 Farm Bill, they must protect SNAP and resist pressure to weaken the program by turning it into an ineffective block grant.”

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