State Food Stamp Commissioners Ask for More Flexibility

Aug 5, 1999

Washington, D.C. — During today's House Agriculture Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry hearing, led by Chairman Bob Goodlatte, the Food Stamp program was reviewed.  Specifically, states asked Congress to provide them more flexibility, Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) interoperability, and caseload reduction.

Today, three state welfare commissioners asked Congress to provide greater flexibility in the Food Stamp program.  Commissioners from Virginia, Maryland and Michigan indicated their support for proposals that allow states to set rules for food stamps, much as they do in welfare programs.  Flexibility allows states to test innovative approaches that can result in improved programs and access for needy families.

"The President has been traveling around the country recently trumpeting the success of the welfare to work legislation we passed three years ago.  The states have done a great job implementing the welfare to work program," Goodlatte said.  "It was only by scrapping Washington's one-size-fits-all policy and giving them the flexibility to respond to individual needs that has moved people from welfare to work.  Now, I fear that the increasing pressure by the Administration will create a more command and control management style."

"It is time for the Food Stamp program to come into synch with the new direction in the development and management of welfare programs," said Clarence Carter, Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Social Services.  "State experience indicates that expanded waiver authority and the ability to test innovative approaches can lead to some very tangible and desirable outcomes for both our recipients and for the program as a whole."

In August 1996, significant changes were made to programs providing welfare to needy families.  States were allowed to design welfare to work programs that best served families with children.  In addition, the Food Stamp program was reformed but remained a federal program, providing food assistance to needy families.

The Subcommittee also reviewed Chairman Goodlatte's legislation, the Electronic Benefit Transfer Interoperability and Portability Act of 1999 (H.R. 2709).  The bill allows food stamp recipients to cross state lines to buy food.

"In the Information Age, food stamp users should have the flexibility to use electronic benefits in their home state and in neighboring states," Goodlatte said.  "Electronic Benefit Transfers uses debit cards and is an efficient way to give food stamp users benefits without the waste, fraud, and abuse of the old paper coupons."

###