Sessions Calls USDA’s Food Stamp Tactics Into Question

WASHINGTON—U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee, issued the following statement today in response to the continued emergence of reports that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has undertaken an aggressive outreach campaign to swell the food stamp rolls even when an individual does not need or wish to receive financial assistance:

“It has become increasingly clear that, in recent years, the mission of the food stamp program has been converted from targeted assistance for those in need into an aggressive drive to expand enrollment regardless of need. Food stamp spending has quadrupled since 2001, yet USDA complains that too many eligible people continue to resist enrollment. USDA’s own literature laments that one barrier to expanded registration is a ‘sense that benefits are not needed.’ Read as a whole, USDA’s activities suggest that the program administrators take personal offense when people who technically qualify for their largesse decline to accept—and see it as an obstacle to overcome.

In one case, a ‘Gold Hunger Champions Award’ was awarded to an eligibility office for overcoming the ‘mountain pride’ of individuals living in rural North Carolina who did not wish to be on government assistance. USDA even has a document providing guidance to eligibility workers on ‘overcom[ing] the word ‘no.’’

Food stamps are also now marketed by USDA as a way to combat the ‘‘epidemic’ of obesity.’

And today we learn that the USDA, in an effort to increase the enrollment of immigrants, including non-citizens, has produced Spanish-language radio soap operas. In one of these, an individual tries to convince a friend to enroll in food stamps even though that friend declares: ‘I don’t need anyone’s help. My husband earns enough to take care of us.’ The first individual replies back: ‘When are you going to learn?’ Is this the message we wish to send new arrivals into our country—depend on the government even if you don’t need to—particularly at a time when we have to borrow forty cents of every dollar we spend?

Our nation’s welfare programs should ensure that those in need receive proper benefits, but it cannot be contended that persons who don’t need the benefits ought to receive them nonetheless.  It is time to re-visit the welfare reform debate and look at all of the nearly 80 federal welfare programs. We must make certain that these programs together serve the national interest and the human interests of the intended recipients.

The sound policy, and the compassionate course, is not a drive to place the largest possible number of people on welfare support; instead, we should seek, whenever possible, to help our fellow Americans realize personal and financial independence.”

NOTE: To view more information about Sen. Sessions’ efforts to reform the food stamp program, please click here.