Ted Yoho: Closing the Gap Between Welfare and Work

Recently,‭ ‬there have been a variety of stories in the news reflecting extensive fraud and abuse of the‭ ‬Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program(‬SNAP,‭ ‬formerly known as food stamps‭)‬.‭ ‬In New Jersey alone,‭ ‬a grocery store employee admitted he took part in a‭ ‬$1.9‭ ‬million SNAP fraud scheme,‭ ‬and separately,‭ ‬a couple admitted to exchanging over‭ ‬$4.5‭ ‬million in SNAP benefits for cash across a period of four years.‭ ‬In Massachusetts,‭ ‬an individual used‭ ‬75‭ ‬different Electronic Benefit Transfer‭ (‬EBT‭) ‬cards to buy over‭ ‬$250,000‭ ‬in food for his wife’s restaurant.‭

Unfortunately,‭ ‬Democrats and their pro-status quo advocacy allies have tried to convince Americans that SNAP fraud is an‭ ‬insignificant problem.‭ ‬Here in Jacksonville,‭ ‬however,‭ ‬more than‭ ‬200‭ ‬individuals were identified as taking part in food stamp fraud in just six short months,‭ ‬many of whom were able-bodied adults.‭ ‬The Government Accountability Office‭ (‬GAO‭) ‬recently released a report that showed instances of benefit trafficking range from‭ ‬$960‭ ‬million to‭ ‬$4.7‭ ‬billion per year,‭ ‬which would make it over‭ ‬7 percent‭ ‬of total SNAP spending‭ – ‬spending that has exceeded‭ ‬$60‭ ‬billion annually over the past nine years.‭

While retailer and individual fraud and abuse are certainly problematic,‭ ‬these issues do not end at that level.‭ ‬One of the most flagrant and concerning abuses of this vital program occurs at the state level,‭ ‬where states manipulate data to waive large groups of individuals from the requirement to work,‭ ‬train,‭ ‬or volunteer.‭

Currently,‭ ‬more than one-third of the country has these waivers in place.‭ ‬Fortunately,‭ ‬this abuse is not seen in Florida as our state does not use waivers.‭ ‬But states like California have successfully waived‭ ‬55‭ ‬out of‭ ‬58‭ ‬counties using old data and gerrymandered regions.‭ ‬This is especially concerning because in‭ ‬2014‭ ‬California had‭ ‬49‭ ‬out of‭ ‬58‭ ‬counties with an unemployment rate over‭ ‬6 percent,‭ ‬yet today there are only‭ ‬28‭ ‬counties in the state with an unemployment rate above‭ ‬6 percent.‭ ‬With the U.S.‭ ‬unemployment rate at‭ ‬a historic low,‭ ‬this type of waiver exploitation by states must end.‭ ‬In fact,‭ ‬the Trump administration recently proposed to reign in exploited regulatory language that has long waived the time limit‭ – ‬and subsequently the work requirement‭ – ‬for able-bodied adults without dependents‭ (‬ABAWDs‭) ‬receiving SNAP benefits.‭ ‬The underlying law regarding ABAWD waivers is vague and has resulted in past administrations improperly exploiting the associated regulations.‭

This administration’s regulatory proposal prevents states from manipulating data and gerrymandering regions‭ – ‬practices states have come to know through leftist advocacy groups who pride themselves on a more robust welfare state.‭ ‬The proposal is simple:‭ ‬it modifies how states can seek these waivers,‭ ‬with an emphasis on the booming economy,‭ ‬available jobs,‭ ‬and training opportunities.‭ ‬It also requires states to use more relevant and timely data.‭

Today,‭ ‬we are seeing historically low unemployment,‭ ‬and jobless claims have dropped to their lowest level since‭ ‬1969.‭ ‬Coupled with average earnings nearing‭ ‬$28‭ ‬per hour and over‭ ‬3.2‭ ‬million new jobs created,‭ ‬these positive indicators should bring hope for those looking to move from welfare to work.‭ ‬It is high time to stop marginalizing those receiving SNAP by incentivizing work in exchange for benefits from our most capable recipients.‭

Democrats have tried to convince Americans that certain populations are incapable of work.‭ ‬However,‭ ‬in practice,‭ ‬three states that established mandatory minimum work requirements for ABAWDs‭ – ‬Florida,‭ ‬Maine,‭ ‬and Alabama‭ – ‬saw their ABAWD SNAP enrollment decrease by‭ ‬94 percent,‭ ‬90 percent‭ ‬and‭ ‬85 percent‭ ‬respectively.‭ ‬Instead of stigmatizing the work capability of individuals who fall under the ABAWD category as the Democrats are doing,‭ ‬we should recognize work as an American value that we need to help all achieve.‭ ‬And by moving forward with the administration’s proposal we are that much closer to‭ ‬closing the gap between welfare and work,‭ ‬ultimately moving people into a vibrant middle class who are capable of reaching their American Dream.‭ ‬And‭ ‬I for one will‭ ‬not stop working to expose SNAP fraud‭; ‬I want to ensure this program’s integrity is protected because I know from personal experience that this program is a vital lifeline to our most vulnerable friends and neighbors.‭

 

First elected to Congress in 2012, U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., sits on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee.

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