Blank Welfare Check


Every five years, Congress passes a farm bill that violates all three of Tea Party Patriots’ core principles. Earlier this week, this blog hammered the existing House and Senate farm bills (which are 80% unrelated to agriculture) for their corrupt overspending, special treatment of the well-connected, and their lack of oversight.

This week, the National Grocers Association – one of the more influential special interest groups in Washington – stepped up against a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/food stamps) amendment to improve program oversight by Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA). Here are five of the Association’s talking points, provided by a GOP House aide:

The mandated collection of data on every food item (complete or partial) purchased with SNAP benefits to include the label description and brand name, size of the item, number of units sold, and aggregate cost of each item will be an enormous and costly undertaking for retailers.

Grocers operate on razor thin profit margins of around 1 percent so any new cost will impact the bottom line.

Transmitting the data to USDA will be a potentially insurmountable challenge for many retail stores, especially retailers operating in rural communities where infrastructure is limited. Even retailers operating in urban communities have determined file sizes will likely exceed their current internet capabilities.

There are retailers today still hand price each item and do not have scanning systems. How will these small businesses comply with the law?

Importantly, the collection of item specific sales data is not required of retailers today by either USDA or states for SNAP.

These talking points are nothing but that – political arguments with very little substance behind them. Consider:

The collection of sales data is already required, contrary to what the Association claims. As reported by Tea Party Patriots two months ago:

…[T]he 2008 farm bill mandated business must hold records of transactions for three years for investigative purposes – although the records are not allowed to be used for oversight.

While current law does not require transactional oversight, it should be a relatively simple shift to go from “investigative purposes” to “oversight.”

1. Regarding the Internet and scanning system concerns, many of the software programs stores would have to buy could be deducted as a business expense – and SNAP participants use EBT cards, which means purchase amounts are recorded already.

2. Assuming the Association is correct insofar as the profit margin of grocers, the talking points only address the overall profit margin of grocers. There is no mention of the profit margin on SNAP-purchased items, which are given a cushion in price so grocers don’t take losses.

3. Technically, grocer participation in SNAP is voluntary. Granted, it’s voluntary in the way many government subsidies and programs are voluntary – make something so widespread that your competitors take advantage of it, thus forcing you to participate or lose market share – but it’s not required. Thus, the Grocers Association is being misleading in claiming concern over smaller businesses, since they are not forced to participate.

How much money is lost to inefficiencies in the food stamp program? Last summer, I estimated the program lost $3.3 billion to fraud and improper payments, equivalent to 4.125% of SNAP’s costs that year. That’s a solid chunk of change anywhere but Washington.

Whether or not Rep. Marino’s bill gets into the House’s farm bill legislation – which will be voted on before the House leaves D.C. on Thursday – oversight of SNAP is long overdue. It would be better, of course, to properly vet those who qualify for food stamps, prevent corporate welfare, and thus work the program back to its constitutional bounds – meaning, it would eventually be eliminated in its entirety at the federal level. Short of that, oversight should be a pillar of the program. True to favored special interest form, the National Grocers Association appears to want to have its cake and eat it, too, in the form of $80 billion of your tax dollars per year.