|EYE ON BUREAUCRACY
The Conservative Caucus Foundation
450 Maple Avenue East * Vienna, Va. 22180
Are you having a difficult time making ends meet every month? Are you, specifically having a hard time feeding yourself and your family? Well, maybe you should consider becoming a criminal, going to jail and then --- getting Federal food stamps! That's what I said: going to jail to get food stamps. A recent General Accounting Office (GAO) report (GAO/RCED-97-54), titled "Food Stamps: Substantial Overpayments Result From Prisoners Counted As Household Members", reveals that millions of your hard-earned Federal tax dollars and mine are being spent, illegally, to give food stamps to convicts.CONGRESSIONALLY ACCOUNTABLE GAO FRAUDULENTLY MISREPRESENTS MEANING OF "GENERAL WELFARE"
First, a little background. This GAO report says that the Federal Food Stamp Program "is designed to promote the general welfare and to safeguard the health and well-being of the nation's population by raising the nutrition levels of low-income families. Recipients use their food stamp benefits to purchase allowable food products from authorized retail food merchants."
But, this is not true. The Federal Food Stamp Program does not "promote" the general welfare. This Federal program provides welfare. And in this case, it provides welfare for only a certain class of Americans. There is a huge difference, constitutionally, between promoting the general welfare or providing it.26 MILLION ON THE DOLE AT A COST OF $22 BILLION ANNUALLY
Speaking of huge, the Federal Food Stamp Program is gigantic. In just Fiscal Year 1995 alone, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued over $22 billion in food stamp benefits for about 26 million individuals. In this same year, USDA reported that approximately 15 percent of food stamp cases contained errors resulting in as much as $1.7 billion in overpayments nationwide.
Okay. So, everybody makes mistakes. True, everybody doesn't make mistakes that cost $1.7 billion. But, this is the kind of mistake that is made when bureaucrats in Washington and at the State and local level are spending other people's money --- your tax dollars and mine.
This GAO report also informs us that eligibility for food stamps is determined on "a household basis." And that a household can be either an individual or a family or "other group that lives together and customarily purchases and prepares food in common." So, a group of people --- any kind of people, shacked-up heterosexuals or homosexuals, married or unmarried --- if they meet the low-income requirements, can qualify for food stamps.
But, supposedly, prisoners cannot get food stamps. Yet, they do, thousands of them, at a cost of millions of dollars.
What the GAO did was examine the computerized records of jailed criminals and matched those records with 1995 food stamp rolls in four states: California, Florida, New York and Texas. These jurisdictions account for 27 percent of food stamp participants across the country. And what was discovered was this:
"Despite Federal regulations prohibiting inmates of correctional institutions from participating in the Food Stamp Program, GAO identified 12,138 inmates in the areas we examined who were included in households receiving food stamps. These households improperly collected an estimated $3.5 million in food stamp benefits." Nearly 9,500 state convicts ripped-off the Food Stamp Program for about $2.6 million; about 2,700 county jail criminals ripped-off an estimated $900,000.
The words "improperly collected" here is bureaucratic babble for stealing. This $3.5 million was obtained illegally. Thus, it was theft.CHRISTIAN CHARITY IS VOLUNTARY AND SELECTIVE --- FEDERAL WELFARE IS COMPULSORY AND CORRUPT
So, how could this happen? Well, the GAO says: "Prisoner participation goes undetected because agencies generally do not verify the information on household membership provided by food stamp applicants. Furthermore, according to officials in the USDA's Food Stamp Program, most state or local agencies responsible for administering the program do not routinely collect and review lists of individuals incarcerated in state and local facilities to determine whether any of these individuals are being counted as members of food stamp households ---.
"Prisoners are able to participate (love that word "participate," don't you?) in the Food Stamp Program because local welfare agencies seldom verify the composition of a household. Instead, most agencies rely on food stamp applicants to provide accurate household information and to report subsequent changes, such as the incarceration of a family member. Most agencies do not, for example, routinely compare lists of prison or jail inmates with lists of household members ---.
"Furthermore, investigative resources were generally very limited; for example, the Miami area, which contains 26 percent of Florida's food stamp recipients, had just one (1) field investigator to conduct household visits."AN "HONOR SYSTEM" AMONG THIEVES?
Now, this is a great system, no? For decades, while spending hundreds of billions of your hard-earned tax dollars and mine on food stamps, those running this criminally negligent boondoggle have administered it according to what, in effect, has been a no-questions asked "honor system" for tens of thousands of people who, obviously, are thieves with no sense of honor whatsoever.
Oh, and the GAO says that the states visited for their report, which did have data matching prisoner lists with food stamp rolls, "were acting with little or no knowledge of the matching efforts of other states. As a result, each state started without any information, rather than building on the experience of others. Thus, any cost or time savings that could have arisen from the sharing of information were not realized."
But, why should any of this really surprise us? As I say, people who spend other people's money do not do this with the same care as people spending their own money. This is why so many government programs are so poorly run and so easily ripped-off.
In its conclusion, in one of the great understatements of this or any other century, the GAO says: "The participation (there's that word again) of ineligible individuals undermines the credibility of the Food Stamp Program and results in overpayments." Huh? With whom has this program ever had any "credibility"? With you? With me? With those who, for decades, have been robbing it blind? I think not.
The GAO recommends, among other things, that the Secretary of Agriculture "actively encourage" states to implement periodic computer matches of data on local and state convicts with the food stamp rolls. Well, better-late-than-never, I guess --- if you still have this program.
But, I have a better recommendation. The Federal Food Stamp Program should be abolished. It should not exist. And those who have been negligent in the administration of this program should be held legally accountable in a court of law so that taxpayers can recover the billions of dollars stolen from us.
The most recent vote appropriating funds for the Federal Food Stamp Program (Roll Call #387) occurred on August 1, 1996. The vote was 379-42.
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