09.14.17

Chairman Roberts: Unknown SNAP Error Rate Unacceptable, Changes Needed

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, today held a hearing, titled, “Nutrition Programs: Perspectives for the 2018 Farm Bill.”

“As we conduct this review, it is important to remember the purpose of these critical nutrition programs,” said Chairman Roberts. “They are not about long-term dependency; they are about giving aid in times of trouble. They are about ensuring our nation’s security, helping folks become productive members of our economy, and assisting the vulnerable among us who cannot help themselves.”

“Unfortunately, we have learned of some significant issues regarding the administration and oversight of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.”

“Investigations by the Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, the Department’s Office of Inspector General, and the Department of Justice have revealed that states have purposely used ‘whatever means necessary’ to mislead the federal government to obtain bonuses or avoid financial penalties.”

“Simply put, no one knows the error rate of SNAP, and that is unacceptable. And, the federal government does not even know the basic elements of the problem, such as how long this has been occurring.”

“This program accounts for over 75 percent of Farm Bill spending. If we are unable to verify that this program is making every dollar count, and ensure that the right amount of assistance is going to those that need it, then something needs to change. And something will change.”

This marks the eighth hearing in preparation for the upcoming Farm Bill reauthorization.

To provide input for the Senate Agriculture Committee’s consideration for the upcoming Farm Bill reauthorization, click here. The link will be active for five business days after the hearing.

Click here to watch Chairman Roberts' opening statement. Below are Chairman Roberts’ remarks as prepared for delivery:

Good morning. I call this meeting of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry to order.

Over the last several months, I, along with Ranking Member Stabenow and our colleagues on this Committee, have been working on a new Farm Bill. An important part of this process has been to hold hearings on each Farm Bill title and to listen to stakeholders. 

I am proud to say that the Committee has efficiently conducted our work in this area, having held hearings so far on eight titles. Today’s hearing covers the nutrition programs in Title IV of the Farm Bill. Two titles remain. 

The reauthorization process affords us the opportunity to review the full range of USDA programs to ensure that they are operating efficiently and effectively. Not every program needs a major overhaul, but many federal programs can benefit from increased efficiency, improved integrity, and reduction of waste.

As we conduct this review, it is important to remember the purpose of these critical nutrition programs. They are not about long-term dependency; they are about giving aid in times of trouble. They are about ensuring our nation’s security, helping folks become productive members of our economy, and about assisting the vulnerable among us who cannot help themselves.  

Part of a thorough review includes verifying that the programs are being administered and implemented properly at the federal and state levels.  

Unfortunately, we have learned of some significant issues regarding the administration and oversight of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

Investigations by the Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, the Department’s Office of Inspector General, and the Department of Justice have revealed that states have purposely used “whatever means necessary” to mislead the federal government to obtain bonuses or avoid financial penalties.

Witnesses here today will provide details, but what we have discovered is that the integrity of the SNAP program cannot be verified. In all but a few states, the process used to measure errors has failed. Thus, the level of erroneous payments states have made when administering this program is completely unknown. 

Simply put, no one knows the error rate of SNAP, and that is unacceptable. And, the federal government does not even know the basic elements of the problem, such as how long this has been occurring. 

This program accounts for over 75 percent of Farm Bill spending. If we are unable to verify that this program is making every dollar count, and ensure that the right amount of assistance is going to those that need it, then something needs to change. And something will change. 

We are not talking about rampant fraud; we are not talking about rampant program abuse. We are talking about states cheating and gaming the system, resulting in an inability to even measure how many taxpayer dollars are being spent in error. This is not fair to taxpayers, and it is certainly not fair to those who depend on this program. 

It is our duty to ensure that the integrity of this program, which is vital to those among us in need, is able to be measured and verified.

Once that is accomplished, we must also ensure that this program is truly serving those in need, helping them to achieve self-sustainability and not hindering their ability to succeed. 

Much has been made of “work requirements,” but it is our job to be deliberative and informed when considering how we truly achieve the goal of enabling those who are receiving public assistance to attain self-sufficiency. 

The last Farm Bill included a significant investment in work pilots, to test effective methods of ensuring the long-term success of folks in need of assistance. We will need to build on that investment and continue to test proven methods of success.

As we undertake this process—with the goals of program integrity and truly helping people to become self-sustaining—we will need the support and flexibility of all program stakeholders. 

Lines in the sand and uncompromising positions will benefit no one, and especially not the vulnerable populations these programs serve. Working together, I am confident we can find a way to ensure the integrity of SNAP and the critical need that the program meets.

With that, it is my pleasure to recognize Senator Stabenow for any remarks she may have. But before yielding, I would like to take a moment to express appreciation to the Department’s Food and Nutrition Services and other agencies for their work in providing assistance to those affected by the recent hurricanes. 

I understand that Department staff have worked around-the-clock to provide services and ensure that program participants and others have access to assistance in this time of need. I have received reports lauding the Department’s preparation and response, and I would like to thank Secretary Perdue and his staff for their dedication and hard work. 

It will take this same spirit of working together for us to remedy these and other issues that need to be addressed to pass a Farm Bill.

Ranking Member Stabenow, I yield to you for any comments. 

-30-

Press Contact

Meghan Cline
202-224-2035