OP-ED: Rep. Mark Meadows: Food stamps fight -- Dems don't want to wage a war on poverty, they just want scare tactics
Rep. Mark Meadows: Food stamps fight -- Dems don't want to wage a war on poverty, they just want scare tactics
It’s the oldest trick in Washington — when presented with a policy solution you don’t like, characterize it as the bogeyman.
Recall recent Social Security and Medicare political scare ads targeted at seniors that claimed “if you vote for X, he will slash Medicare and Social Security.” In reality, no one is touching — much less gutting those programs. In fact, it is difficult to have a serious policy discussion about those issues in Washington because they have become so politically toxic.
Is welfare the next bogeyman? Can we have a serious conversation about improving the integrity of our poverty programs in this country?
The most recent example would certainly be the 2018 Farm Bill debate. There were countless media hits and heavily funded "academics" depicting how any — ANY — reforms to the food stamp program were draconian policies that would decimate nutrition assistance for children, the elderly and the disabled. They were all patently false, and disingenuously characterized the nature of what the legislation aimed to do.
But there was one thing almost no one seemed to ask congressional Democrats, who unanimously opposed the reforms: If you disagree with these changes, what, if any, policy changes are necessary?
Take, for example, a basic question about who is eligible for the food stamp program. Should those whose assets exceed more than $1 million be eligible for food stamps? I think we can all agree this shouldn’t be the case. But under existing laws, this happens.
Rob Undersander — the media-dubbed "Minnesota Millionaire" — was able to receive food stamp benefits for 19 months due to Minnesota’s use of an eligibility loophole. But interestingly, these benefits — which at times exceeded $300 per month – were not fraudulently received. Mr. Undersander truthfully answered all questions on both an application and in an interview, proving that what was originally seen as an eligibility “administrative efficiency” has morphed into an egregious abuse in more than 40 states.
That’s why the U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing a new rule that would seek to limit the eligibility of households to include both an income test AND an asset test. Because the reality is, Mr. Understander’s case isn’t unique.
A report prepared for USDA found that most income-eligible households with financial resources that exceed the federal resource limit have more than $20,000 in countable assets. One in five had more than $100,000 in assets, including tens of thousands of households with more than $1 million in assets.
Defenders of the current system say this new USDA rule is merely a ruse to kick more people off the rolls and would limit thousands of children’s access to free and reduced school lunch. But these talking points are nothing more than scare tactics.
Under this proposed rule, more than 99.9 percent of school-aged children in SNAP households will still qualify for the school lunch program and over 96 percent of school-aged children in SNAP households will still qualify for free lunches.
USDA is proposing this rule for one reason: every dollar spent on individuals with significant financial resources or whose income is above the federal eligibility threshold is a dollar that cannot be preserved for those who meet eligibility requirements. Plain and simple.
I, along with many of my Republican colleagues, believe there is so much more we can do for those who are trapped in our social safety net programs. But we are limited by the level of discourse with which of our colleagues on the other side of the aisle are willing to engage.
Unfortunately, Democrats don’t want to wage a war on poverty or improve program integrity; they prefer talking points.
And as long as they prefer to characterize the conversation as the bogeyman – as the cruel, callous Republicans looking to take benefits away from the poor – then we will never have a meaningful conversation about poverty.
It’s past time to set aside politically charged rhetoric and begin to engage in policy discussions that yield tangible results that end these abuses and provide support for those truly in need.
Republican Mark Meadows represents North Carolina's 11th Congressional District and is chairman of the House Freedom Caucus and a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
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