Brett Heinisch is a graduate of Wawasee High School and a student studying Political Science Indiana University, Bloomington.
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As reported by the Washington Times in October, the United States has reached a $17 trillion dollar debt.
A debt that size is a huge problem for the American people in this generation and the future one. When people go into debt, they usually have to cut back on their spending habits to compensate. The time then has come for the United States Congress to make its own cuts to its budget in order to get its spending in control and save itself from the horrible debt.
One program that could easily be reformed is the Food Stamp program. With the multiple inadequacies of this program, reforming it becomes makes practical sense with relation to the debt.
The cuts to the food stamp program are very simple. Basic reforms from the U.S. Congress could eliminate a lot of the spending on this program without ruining its integrity or completely taking the program away from those who need it.
One method would be to eliminate incentives for states to increase their recipient load, decreasing the drive to increase the size of the program.
Second would be to eliminate broad based categorical eligibility to stop abuse and help people who don’t need them.
Third and finally would be to strengthen work requirements for the program to decrease dependency. Taking these three steps would decrease spending on the program as well as decrease usage of those who do not need the program altogether.
Food stamps, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), have been steadily rising over the past decade. Spending on the program has been increasing since 2002 (Participation and Costs). As was brought up by U.S. Representative from Oklahoma Tom Cole, “[Food Stamps are] a program that’s doubled under President (George W.) Bush, doubled again under President Obama.”
The program is growing at an alarming rate and therefore becoming a problem for government spending as a whole. Reason.com’s Ira Stoll reported that votes have shown that a recent bill passed in the house that spending will actually cause spending to increase at a rate of 57 percent over the next decade. If it is not addressed, it will continue to grow and increase the size and scope of our debt.
The question then becomes why overall spending on the program is actually increasing. Margaret Andrews and David Smallwood looked into the program and found basic reasons for why the spending has increased. In 2002, eligibility standards were lowered to allow more flexibility and to offset the 2001 recession. This happened again in 2008. This increased total usage and increased spending. Despite the fact that these recessions ended, the numbers in food stamp usage did not decrease.
The standards have allowed more people to use it despite the fact that it has had little impact on poverty or hunger. According to Michael Tanner of the Cato Institue, spending on the program increased at a larger rate than usage on the program. This means that corresponding spending increases are rising at a faster rate than the amount of users.
How the program has impacted those struggling is largely inconclusive. As released by the Government Accountability Office, “the literature is inconclusive regarding whether SNAP alleviates hunger and malnutrition for low-income households.”
Meanwhile, studies by the Urban Institute have shown that involvement in the Food Stamp program has not decreased food insecurity for those on the program. Therefore, we cannot be sure of the impact it is having on those who use it.
 So the program may not be effectively dealing with the problems at hand. Reform is necessary to direct it towards those who truly need.
With this increased spending, we then start to see the burden put on others. Every dollar that is taken from this program does not magically appear out of thin air but is instead taken from the hard working Americans. Taxe revenue is needed to pay off the programs since the food stamp program is not short term, but a permanent expenditure.
There will always be more payments on the program so it will always be adding to the budget. This will in effect lead to higher taxes which could inhibit economic investment and will hurt the budgets of future taxpayers who will need to continue to pay off the program. In the long run, that could actually lead to more poverty than current food stamp spending is meant to alleviate. Manageable cuts are needed to slow down the program if we are to get U.S. national spending under control.
The question becomes what to do about the program. There are basic reforms that would help effectively reduce costs and deal with the program. The first thing to do would be to eliminate bonus payments to states for increasing participation in the program.
According to Tanner, states received $48 million in bonus payments for this reason. This bonus money is aimed at increasing the program regardless of whether the people need it. It’s focus is merely on expanding the program.
This may seem like only a small part of the budget, but the increased base actually increases usage which then contributes to more of the $78 billion. Eliminating the program would kill incentives for states to expand the program. Canceling these programs and then demanding repayment for erroneous errors could save a total of $2.5 billion.
The second thing to do would be to end broad-based eligibility. As defined by Real Clear Politics, if you apply for another form of government aid then you can apply for Food Stamps.
Tanner notes this eliminates multiple income and asset tests.
 Despite having the other welfare programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families having their own different set standards, people can use this to get extra money that they are not eligible to receive.
To fix this, ending the broad-based eligibility would help eliminate waste and fraud. According to Tanner, doing this could eliminate as much as $1.2 billion from the program. Meanwhile, it would make sure that the program is only benefitting those who need it. This would be a major step for reform.
Finally, we should enforce work requirements to effectively make people earn their Food Stamps.
Current work requirements are not enforced or presented to the federal government to get their money. We could get a better handle on whether or not those on the program need what the support if we could get a stronger handle on work requirements. Passing the bill to eliminate the work requirement extensions would then make the USDA enforce existing rules. This would make it easier eliminate fraud.
Legislation would be needed to fulfill these reforms.
Once laws are passed, the power would fall upon the USDA to incorporate the reforms into their policy since they oversee the food stamp program.
Once this is accomplished, we can then start seeing the needed budget cuts and start decreasing spending.