USDA chief defends "food stamp" program from cuts

Some members of Congress are hoping to scale back the part of the Farm Bill dedicated to nutrition programs — which benefit tens of thousands of Nebraskans each month. U-S Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is in charge of administering the government’s former “food stamp” program which is now called SNAP — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
“First of all, I think it’s important for people to know who it is that’s receiving this assistance,” Vilsack says. “I think most people think they are folks who are on welfare, but the reality is only 10% of the people receiving the SNAP or “food stamp” benefits are on cash-welfare assistance today.”
Of the other 90%, some are low-income senior citizens trying to live on their monthly Social Security payment, but many others are what Vilsack calls the “working poor.”
“They are people who are working jobs that just simply do not pay them enough to be able to stretch that dollar at the end of the month to make sure that they’ve got enough food in their home and so these are working men and women and families who are struggling and I think as we look at America I don’t think we want to discourage those who are working and playing by the rules,” Vilsack says. “I think we want to give them a helping hand long enough for them to get themselves back on their feet.”
The Farm Bill is set to expire in 2012 and members of congress have already begun holding hearings on issues included in the legislation. Two-thirds of the spending outlined in the 2008 Farm Bill is for government nutrition programs, like food stamps and the free and reduced price lunches served to children in American schools.
Critics in Congress say they’ll work to reduce the money that goes into those nutrition programs as part of a Republican-led effort to cut federal spending. Vilsack says it “would probably be penny-wise and pound foolish” to scale back spending on those government nutrition programs.
“For every $5 that we invest in the nutrition programs, we get about $9.20 of economic activity and so the reality is that these resources generate jobs,” Vilsack says. “If people are able to buy more at the grocery store that means someone has to stock it, someone has to process it, someone has to package it, someone has to truck it, someone has to produce it. All of those are job opportunities in an economy in which we’re really focused on trying to create jobs.”
The U.S.D.A.’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is providing benefits to an estimated 40-million Americans. In Nebraska, nearly 73,000 households received SNAP or “food stamp” benefits in July.