SIMMONS: Oh, snap, time to reform food stamps, again

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Let’s cut to the chase.

More than 47 million people are enrolled in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a 70 percent increase since Barack Obama became president-elect in 2008.

The Senate passed a food stamp measure earlier this year that would trim funding by about $400 million.

On Thursday, the House of Representatives approved legislation that would cut funding by about $40 billion over 10 years.

Oh, snap, was the immediate reaction, and rightly so.

Because we’ve been down this road before, it’s certainly time for meaningful reform, so that people who need food stamps can get them and people who are merely gaming the system cannot.

In the District, for example, an unemployed, single adult with no disabilities and no dependents can receive $150 a month in food stamps. By comparison, the national per-person monthly average is $133.

The House bill addresses and re-addresses key issues.

One requirement rewrites eligibility requirements, which in many instances allows people to qualify for food stamps automatically if they are receiving other government aid. Another stipulation reinstates the so-called “able-bodied adult” rule, a work-related requirement that was an important tool in the Republican-led welfare reform bucket during the Clinton years.

Yet another reform measure this time around would allow states to require drug tests in exchange for receiving food stamps.

Such a mandate can be tricky, however, if the policy puts dependents at risk because of others’ negligible behavior. (To wit: I have seen apparent substance abusers offer to pay for others’ groceries with their food stamp cards in exchange for cash.)

Tightening rules always can cut down on food stamp abuse and, perhaps, help ensure that people who actually need food stamps can receive them, especially seniors as baby boomers retire.

Like so many entitlement programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — or SNAP or food stamps, as it’s called — has undergone several reforms.

Created in 1939 to help the poor purchase produce, meat and dairy products from domestic farmers, the food stamp initiative has become far more than a feeding program.

Still somewhat tethered to stopgap hunger policies and agribusiness, the definition of hunger remains the same but its political meaning has changed from humanitarian social policy to political posturing.

That is to say, both President Johnson and President Clinton tied the program to special interests — from the “war on poverty” to “welfare reform.”

Put another way, after blacks and other minorities began gaining political power in the 1960s and early ‘70s, talk of “welfare queens” was retired and replaced with the mantra “vote for me and I’ll set you free” — a rhetorical chorus mastered by the Democratic Party.

By no means should Congress end the nation’s chief feeding program, as far too many “able-bodied adults” need the nutritional promise offered by food stamps.

But the House is on the right track, an easy assumption to make when Democrats in both houses start the rhetorical chorus anew.

The party-line House vote and glaring differences in the House and Senate mean either a compromise is in the offing or Washington really and truly will be on its way to end “welfare as we know it.”

For sure, there are hungry children and needy senior citizens who can’t even put a loaf of bread on the table but for food stamps.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at

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About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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