The Audacity of Budgets (part3)

The Department of Agriculture (part 2)

There are subjects that at first glance, seem easy to discuss. After closer examination, they are more difficult, because of their very nature. It must be remembered that Social programs have real effects on the lives of real people. One must always be careful not to be calloused toward people who are poor, disabled, or just plain down on their luck. Some participants in these programs do not have even the most basic of life’s luxuries afforded by the modern world, let alone basic needs. Having grown up poor, some of these circumstances I am quite familiar with.

Politicians shy away from addressing any issue that would make them appear to be uncaring to the poor. History has shown any Social program is considered ‘hands off’ when it comes to scrutiny or cuts. This ‘hands off’ attitude creates easy opportunity for fraud and theft. Lax oversight is one result of this attitude and that is what needs to be brought to the forefront of this discussion.

Here are a couple of points of reality in the form of questions:

Are there people in need in this country?

Are these programs noble in intent?

Do we have a God-given responsibility to help those less fortunate?

The answer to these questions is a resounding yes!

Here are a few other points of reality in the same form:

Can we continue to demand more and more from hard working tax-paying people to support these programs?

Is the number of participants in these programs shrinking?

Is the government doing a good job of administering these programs?

The answer is a resounding no!

In the 2012 Federal Budget we read “at a time of abiding need” Meaning – let’s play on your sympathies to justify $7.9 billion in discretionary spending, for what again? Is it the support programs themselves? No, it’s support for already existing support programs. Why not just say we are going to increase the outlays? Well this administration is going to do just that. Increase the mandatory outlays for these programs from $87 billion in 2010 to $99 billion on 2012. On top of the $7.9 billion. It’s just cooler to tell us about the ‘abiding’ increase and not tell us about the other increase.

So this $7.9 billion is slush money to pad these programs wherever they need it (or this administration decides they need it). You know like grants, aka money you get and don’t have to pay back. Loads of new administration. Lots of new government jobs.

Do you know how many programs there are, just at the national level, that address hunger in this country? Take a guess. And how many of these programs are for women and children? And how many for the elderly? Here is a short list of these programs.

NSLP (National School Lunch Program)

SBP (School Breakfast Program)

SMP (Special Milk Program)

SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) Food Stamps

WIC (Women, Infants, and Children)

CACFP (Child & Adult Care Food Program)

Head Start

SFSP (Summer Food Service Program)

ENP (Elderly Nutrition Program)

TEFAP (Emergency Food Assistance Program)

 CDP (Commodity Distribution Program)

 FDPIR (Food Distribution on Indian Reservations)

 Hunger and Food Insecurity Healthy, hunger-free kids act of 2010  (A 187 page bill).  On the top line of the discussion bill it states;

To reauthorize child nutrition programs, and for other purposes

And commit an additional $4.5 billion to child-nutrition programs over the next 10 years . That’s another $450 million per year.

Did you guess there were this many? This list does not include many state and local efforts. Which are not directly funded by Federal programs.  In contrast to these massive budgets, how about religious groups and non-profit outreach programs, and what about those countless individuals who take care of those in need. And do so with less money, and produce more effective results.

Many of these programs are under the umbrella of the USDA, some are not (like Headstart). So we have our first example of more than one Departmental agency overseeing similar and overlapping programs. The fog of so many programs, managed by multiple agencies, is hiding poor administration, waste, and fraud.

Sighting a few programs under the USDA;

NSLP – Program cost $9.8 billion in FY 2009. 31.3 million Children every day got their lunch through the National School Lunch Program.

SBP – For Fiscal Year 2009, the School Breakfast Program cost $2.9 billion. 11.1 million Participants in Fiscal Year 2009.

SMP – In 2009 the Special Milk Program cost $14 million. Providing milk to children in half-day pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs.

WIC – Currently has 9.6 million participants. Congress appropriated $7.252 billion for WIC in FY2010.

SNAP (food Stamps) – There are 43 million people on SNAP. The cost:

2009 – $54 billion    2010 – $65 billion   2011 – $67 billion

There is no time limit for food stamp benefits for people with children and people who are elderly or have disabilities. No time limits, are you kidding? No time limits for the elderly, o.k. No time limits for those who are truly disabled, o.k. But those with kids have no limit? Sorry, there has to be serious limits here.

During the Clinton administration, there were a number of changes to different Welfare programs. One of the changes to the existing SNAP program was this:

SNAP Benefits are available to able-bodied adults (ages 18-50) who have no children. However, these individuals must work at least 20 hours a week or meet other work requirements in order to receive food stamp benefits. If adults without dependent children do not meet work requirements, they are limited to three months of benefits in any 36-month period.

This administration wants to suspend this time limit. Why?

At what point do we realize that we cannot pay for everything for everybody? I don’t mind helping. But tell me where my money is going! Tell me when we say to some of these people, enough is enough, you are on your own!

The new budget also seeks to restore the SNAP benefit cuts that were included in the Child Nutrition Reauthorization program. Restore the cuts? How about cutting my taxes? How about creating a few jobs? So I have to work harder for the same pay, many others don’t have a job at all, and yet those receiving benefits need a raise?

The most frustrating part of all of this is the fraud and abuse inherent with these types of programs.  And today’s politicians, with their ‘hands off’ approach, make it all too easy to cheat the system.

I would venture to say, most everyone knows someone who is defrauding one or more of these programs. Who hasn’t seen the brand new Lincoln or other luxury car, whip into the handicapped parking spot, and watched the driver sprint into the store? How about the person in front of you in the checkout line, in designer clothes, paying for food with a government check or credit card, when you just got off a 10 hour shift?

Most of the participants in one of these programs, participate in multiple programs.

43 Million People are on SNAP. That’s 14% of the entire population (the 2010 census indicates the total U.S. population was 308,745,538 as of 4/10/2010). Or roughly 1 in 9 people are on SNAP. And the number is growing at a rate of 20,000 per day!

Here is the real rub (beside the obvious waste). The government estimates the percentage of fraud in SANP to be 3.5%. Other government estimates actually range from 3 to 6 percent. Considering the government’s inability to forecast cost and numbers accurately, the number is probably closer to 10 to 15 %. But let’s be optimistic and say 5% for the following example.

5% of 43 million people is how many? 2.2 million. Some would shout- ‘you can’t say that, the percentage is referring to money, not number of people committing fraud’. O.k. What is your estimate? Say 1 million? How about 500,000? Does that make you feel better? How about the fact that our tax money is being taken from us by force and it is supporting half a million fraudulent claims?

Did you know – No proof of income, such as a pay stub or W-2 form, is required when parents apply for School Lunch and Breakfast programs? It was even sighted in an article posted on EducationNext.

5% of $65 billion is how much? $3.25 billion. That is a huge number! It’s probably twice that. The scary and infuriating part of this is these are National Budget numbers. When you factor in State funding of these programs, which are far and away a larger percentage of the total cost, it is a real problem, and involves tens of billions of dollars. Our dollars.

The subject of welfare waste and fraud leads the discussion into it’s own topic of conversation, which I will not address in depth here. But suffice it to say, I myself, and I’m sure there are many others, who are tired of working hard to provide for our families, only to have their tax money taken and pissed away by a government who seems more concerned with those on the receiving end of these programs than about those of us who pay the bill!

As we have shown, The USDA is rife with waste. At the very least, some questionable expenditures. Any serious conversation about getting the Federal Budget under control needs to include the USDA.