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Food stamp loopholes are rampant &mdash; here's how to fix them

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There are nearly 15 million able-bodied adults on food stamps, nearly four million of whom have no kids at home. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

There are currently more people on food stamps in the United States than the total population of Canada. This explosion in welfare dependency did not happen by accident, and despite current record-low unemployment and millions of open jobs, welfare enrollment remains at a near all-time high.

Even worse, much of the welfare expansion has been to able-bodied adults, many without kids. There are nearly 21 million able-bodied adults on food stamps, nearly four million of whom are younger than 50 and have no kids at home.

So what’s driven the historic food stamp boom? In part, a series of loopholes and gimmicks, crafted by welfare-insiders and bureaucrats that have exacerbated the welfare crisis, pushing millions into dependency and ripping resources away from those who actually need them. They’ve circumvented Congress and exploited loopholes in federal laws—exploiting the truly needy in the process.

Avoiding the Work Requirement

Federal law requires that able-bodied childless adults on food stamps work, train, or volunteer for at least 20 hours per week. But despite the booming economy, today 34 states have waived these work requirements in some or all regions.

Originally, Congress provided a narrow opportunity for the food stamp agency to let states waive these requirements for people in areas with very high unemployment, but the bureaucrats who wrote the rule greatly expanded their own waiver authority, creating massive loopholes.

While the law allows states to get a waiver if they have 10 percent unemployment or not enough jobs, of the 1,300 counties, cities, or other areas which waived work requirements last year, only 28 had unemployment rates above 10 percent.

Despite research proving that work requirements are the quickest, most effective way to increase incomes, moving people from welfare to work, these states continue to exploit the loophole.

The gimmicks to avoid work don’t end there—Obama-era bureaucrats allowed states to cancel the work requirement for extra childless, able-bodied adults. It works like this: federal law lets states exempt 15 percent of their caseloads of able-bodied adults with no kids from the work requirement. If they don’t use all of those exemptions in a year, the federal government has allowed them to carry over, like you would roll over data on a cell phone plan.

The problem? This isn’t legal, and the Office of Inspector General has said that it does not believe the practice is appropriate.

The resulting effect is a double whammy—able-bodied adults avoid work and taxpayers are left with a $1 billion bill.

And nothing says gimmick like the current age exemption interpretation. Federal law says that able-bodied adults without kids “under 18 or over 50 years of age” are exempt from the work requirements—bureaucrats have since excluded all 50-year-olds from the requirement.

Food Stamp Millionaires

One of the most egregious food stamp tricks is “Broad Based Categorical Eligibility,” created out of thin air by Clinton-era bureaucrats and aggressively pushed by Obama’s food stamp department, which pleaded with states to expand eligibility.

This gimmick allows for people with significant or unlimited assets, even millionaires, to become eligible for food stamps by simply receiving a brochure from the state. How does this happen? Federal law allows someone receiving other welfare benefits to be automatically eligible for food stamps—as long as welfare paid for it, the brochure qualifies as a “benefit.”

It’s gotten so out of hand that many states don’t bother to hand out the brochure—instead deeming someone eligible for the brochure, and thus eligible for food stamps.

More than 4 million people are eligible for food stamps because of this Broad Based Categorical Eligibility gimmick, including many with assets exceeding $100,000. That’s billions of taxpayer dollars that should be going to the truly needy—not millionaires.

The sad reality is that these are just a few examples of the games played by government insiders running the food stamp program. These loopholes and gimmicks need to be closed so the program can serve its true purpose: to get people out of dependency and on to a better life.

Kristina Rasmussen is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. She is vice president of federal affairs for the Foundation for Government Accountability.

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