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Food stamp distribution bill relies on problematic funding

Food stamp distribution bill relies on problematic funding

Dustin Hurst
March 11, 2014
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March 11, 2014
[post_thumbnail] Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, worries that funding proposed for a food stamp reform program is not reliable.

On the first few days of every month, hungry shoppers, food stamp cards buried in their pockets, bombard local Idaho grocers, overwhelming staffers.

The phenomenon has grown so spectacular, national news outlets have traveled to Idaho stores to observe and report on the frenzied rush.

Boise-based Winco Foods told a local news outlet that the huge rush adds extra costs to its operations, charges the business said may be passed onto customers.

Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, wants to ease the burden on shoppers, stores and staff members by making a small—but expensive—change to how those patrons receive their food stamps.

However, Perry’s bill relies on unstable federal money sources, meaning the changes may not come if the money isn’t there.

As it stands, Idaho’s food stamp-reliant families receive their state-issued debit cards on the first day of each month. Perry’s bill would stagger distribution over 10 consecutive days. Under the plan, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare would have until Dec. 31, 2015, to develop a plan to implement the 10-day distribution operation.

The health and welfare agency believes taxpayers would need to fork over up to $682,000 to make the switch to staggered days, and Perry’s bill may not have funding for that. As written, the bill relies on federal food stamp bonus money to pay for the changes, funds that may not come.

During the past three years, the feds have given Idaho more than $3.7 million in food stamp bonus cash, though Perry noted on the House floor Monday that none of it has gone to the food stamp program.

The agency was unable to immediately fulfill a request asking for a detailed breakdown of where the funds went. At least some of the cash, more than a million dollars, was used to draw matching funds from the federal government to upgrade the state’s Medicaid system.

Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, warned against the measure, noting the unstable funding mechanism.
“What does the word ‘bonus’ mean to you?” she asked her colleagues on the floor. “It means fiscal disaster.”

Bell serves as the co-chair of the powerful Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, which sets agency budgets each year. Relying on the bonus money, she further warned, would set the state up for an additional spending obligation it might not be able to meet.

“The concern I have is for using the bonus money that isn’t secure,” she said. “That worries me.”

Perry countered, explaining that the staggered days would only come if the federal bonus money rolled in. If not, the changes won’t happen.

Others object to the measure for a slightly different reason. Parrish Miller, policy analyst for the Idaho Freedom Foundation, slammed the source of the funds as problematic.

“Implementing a new policy in Idaho that is funded by money derived in part from encouraging more individuals to sign up for the SNAP program (food stamps) will likely have the net effect of increasing government dependency in Idaho,” Miller wrote last week.

States typically receive food stamp bonus cash for improved efficiency in signing up state residents for food stamps. Idaho received just more than $1.2 million in bonus cash in 2011.

Perry’s bill passed the House on a 50 to 16 tally and now heads to the Senate.

Note: The Idaho Freedom Foundation publishes IdahoReporter.com

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