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Commentary: SNAP program is a failed system

By U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Detroit Lakes, MN

Work requirements have been part of SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, since 1996. People between 16 and 59 have to work. The problem is that the requirements we have for able-bodied adults don't work the way they should.

They don't work because they're too rigid and don't offer the states any flexibility, so states ask instead to waive the requirements altogether, which sabotages the original intent of reform. For 2018, 36 states requested and received waivers that exempt folks from work requirements.

In Minnesota, our governor requested waivers for counties with 1 percent unemployment by combining those counties with areas of high unemployment. In other states like California, Nevada, New Mexico, Louisiana and Illinois, governors from both parties requested waivers for their entire states. In all cases, the Trump Administration granted the requests. This system has allowed us to ignore the real problems within SNAP for 22 years.

But in the 2018 Farm Bill, Republicans only double-downed on this failed system. They're throwing good money after bad instead of taking a hard look at those areas where changes would make the system function better. And that's why I chose to vote against the GOP bill.

Before voting, I did my homework. I met with SNAP offices in my district and across the river in North Dakota. I consulted with workforce experts in Minnesota and elsewhere. Folks I talked with — people on the ground that work on this program every day — told me this plan was unworkable, and that the only work the Republican farm bill would create is paperwork. Still the Republicans forged ahead, facts be damned.

Instead of working with Democrats on changes we could all get behind to improve the program and achieve real reform, Republicans set off on an ideological crusade. Crusades are a lousy way to run the government. My party's guilty too: We hear knee-jerk calls to expand background checks on gun purchases, but without addressing the fact that databases at agencies like the FBI, Homeland Security, and the Department of Defense don't talk to one another or to local law enforcement, we'd only be expanding a faulty system. The Republicans' approach on SNAP is the same: They are leaping before they look. Any time lawmakers begin with a partisan goal in mind instead of taking the time along the way to evaluate and address what needs fixing, it's a recipe for disaster.

I'll work with Republicans to reform SNAP if the proposal makes sense, but that's not what this farm bill does.

Collin Peterson is the ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee. He is in his 14th term, and represents Minnesota's Seventh Congressional District.

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