Kevin Cramer: Food-stamp reforms ‘advance dignity of work’A lot has changed since the era of Sen. Dole. In 1969, when he was elected, we spent $228 million on food stamps. Last year we spent $74 billion. Even adjusting for inflation, today we are spending 51 times more on the same program, and double the 2008 amount.
By: Kevin Cramer, Grand Forks Herald
WASHINGTON — In a recent editorial, the Herald railed against modest reforms to food stamps passed by the House of Representatives this week and made Bob Dole the centerpiece of their argument (“If the House GOP has lost Bob Dole … “, Page A4, Sept. 17).
A lot has changed since the era of Sen. Dole. In 1969, when he was elected, we spent $228 million on food stamps. Last year we spent $74 billion. Even adjusting for inflation, today we are spending 51 times more on the same program, and double the 2008 amount.
The news reports of young surfers in California who use food stamps to maintain a work-free lifestyle. Serious damage is being done to a program originally designed to help those in need.
To restore the integrity and solvency of nutrition assistance, the House passed several important reforms. Although not explained in the editorial, I will here.
First, I am glad the Herald praised the reforms contained in the bipartisan 1996 welfare law, because our bill requires President Barack Obama to finally enforce them. The 1996 law states that if you are an able-bodied adult aged 18 to 50 without dependent children, you should have a job, be looking for a job, be training for a job or performing community service in order to get government benefits.
The president has been handing out exemptions to this law since 2009. We can generate $20 billion in savings by ending these waivers while encouraging able-bodied people to work.
Second, we closed a loophole which automatically extends food stamp benefits to anyone who so much as receives a government brochure or calls a toll-free hotline, regardless of their income or assets.
This “categorical eligibility” lets lottery winners and millionaires receive food stamps.
Our bill doesn’t change income requirements. It simply requires people to actually meet them in order to qualify.
These reforms save a modest 5.1 percent over a 10-year period by simply enforcing existing eligibility requirements for food stamps. They are critical if we are going to protect a program intended to serve our most vulnerable citizens including seniors, children, and the disabled.
These individuals shouldn’t have to foot the bill just so able-bodied adults can get benefits without work.
Our reforms to food stamps also address the larger benefits of work and its value to the human spirit.
No one said it better than the president who understood North Dakota best. Theodore Roosevelt in his 1913 autobiography wrote:
“We knew toil and hardship and hunger and thirst … but we felt the beat of hardy life in our veins, and ours was the glory of work and the joy of living.”
When did America become a country where working for benefits is no longer noble?
Why does the Herald promote a culture of permanent dependency over the integrity of a job?
At the very least, we need to examine a program that’s doubled in spending in just five years.
Like the agriculture piece of the Farm Bill, the food stamp program has been given a transparent debate in Congress. Both bills passed the House, and it is now up to the Senate and our president to restore the solvency of nutrition assistance while advancing the dignity of work.
Cramer, a Republican, represents North Dakota in the U.S. House.