Maintaining Waste, Fraud, and Abuse: How Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) Missed the Mark on (SNAP)

Let it never be said that State Senator Alan Lowenthal is a slouch. He’s got political posturing, scare tactics and the rhetoric of dependency down to a science. It’s obvious, however, that he’s more interested in making the poor and the taxpayer alike victims of government waste than he is in solving real problems.

In an April 24th press release, Lowenthal attacked the House Committee on Agriculture’s recent recommendation to cut $33 billion over 10 years from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), this federal food stamp program is, by the agency’s own admission, rampant with fraud. In fact, a March 2011 USDA summary report acknowledged that trafficking alone, defined as the sale of benefits to food retailers for cash, diverted $330 million between 2006 and 2008. That figure doesn’t include additional fraud perpetrated by program beneficiaries, who sell their benefits to others for a profit. Recent investigative reporting by David Goldstein at CBS 2 in Los Angeles suggests that abuses of this latter type are also widespread.

Stunningly, the USDA claims in the first paragraph of the 2011 summary that such fraud comes at no financial cost to the federal government–aka you and me. It is merely, the report notes, a black mark on the program’s mission and credibility. While one can’t deny the credibility problem, waste, fraud and abuse do indeed come at a high financial cost to taxpayers, particularly in the current challenging economy. Elected officials have a fiduciary duty to track and address such problems so that taxpayers do not continue to pay for programs that fail to work as intended. Throwing good money after bad helps no one, including those who legitimately face financial hardship.

Which reveals additional serious flaws in Lowenthal’s attack…

In the past 10 years, SNAP spending has nearly tripled. Much of that increase has occurred just in the last three years, with program spending more than doubling from $34.9 billion in 2008 to $76 billion in 2011. House Ag Committee Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK) acknowledges that SNAP now comprises nearly 80 percent of total USDA spending. These statistics reflect in large measure the Obama administration’s open and active efforts to boost rather than minimize dependence on SNAP through recruitment drives and incentive programs. President Obama did not earn the nickname “the Foodstamp President” without cause.

Ultimately, the $33 billion in cuts proposed by the House Committee on Agriculture represents, over the coming 10 years, a meager 4 percent of this out-of-control, wasteful, and abuse-ridden SNAP spending. More embarrassingly for Senator Lowenthal, the House Committee has plainly stated that the cuts are primarily aimed at closing loopholes and reworking the program’s eligibility triggers in order to minimize precisely this waste and abuse epidemic within the program in order to benefit legitimate SNAP recipients and taxpayers alike. Two incentives for states administering the program would also be on the chopping block. However, in point of fact, not a single dollar of the proposed cuts would prevent the truly needy from receiving SNAP benefits. Nor would the cuts in any way reduce SNAP benefit levels.

Perhaps Senator Lowenthal could explain to us all his particular interest in maintaining fraud, waste, and abuse.

Or is it that, as usual, he just hasn’t done his homework?

Steve Foley
Republican Congressional Candidate, CA-47