GOP focuses on work to fix America’s food stamp problem

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Republicans in Congress are working to improve the food stamps program by focusing on how to lift people out of poverty through work.

“While we know that a job is the surest way to get out of poverty, it can be difficult for individuals to find a job that matches their skills, or to gain the skills needed to fill the jobs available in an area,” GOP Rep. Jackie Walorski of Indiana, chairwoman of the Nutrition Subcommittee, said during a hearing Tuesday.

The GOP’s proposal would expand employment and training programs for all able-bodied adults enrolled in welfare programs like food stamps, also known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). House Speaker Paul Ryan’s “A Better Way” proposal to fight poverty and reduce government spending would expand work requirements for SNAP benefits.

The food stamps program exploded under President Barack Obama, in part because of high unemployment after the great recession, with 46.6 million people enrolled in 2014. Nearly 45 million people are still on food stamps this year, costing taxpayers more than $50 billion in benefits during the past 12 months alone, according to recent USDA data.

During the recovery, Obama allowed states to waive many work requirements for food stamps, which let able bodied adults receive the welfare benefits without having to prove they were working or trying to get work. Many states are just beginning to reinstate the work requirements.

Ten states started pilot programs to test employment and training programs in 2015 with U.S. Department of Agriculture grants. One program helped 1,500 people in California reduce or stop receiving food stamps over an 18-month training period.

The Fresno Bridge Academy got $12.2 million in 2015 for a six year program that helps people on food stamps find better work. “We provide everything from education support to employment training to life skills,” the group’s founder Pete Fresno told the subcommittee members Tuesday.

Weber said that more than 80 percent of the the people in his program found a got job or increased their wages, and 30 percent were stable enough to stop receiving food stamps at the end of the program.

Walorski promised more hearings and discussions about the food stamps program in the future, as Congress considers removing food stamps from the Farm bill. Currently, 79 percent of the Farm Bill appropriations goes to food stamps and nutrition funding.

“I think this gives us a great amount of things to talk about and discuss … what we can best do to address the needs of people and protect taxpayers at the same time,” Walorski said.

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