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June 16, 2013

THEIR VIEW: Don't punish those in need

Waste and fraud in government programs should be rooted out vigilantly.

Legislation should fix a problem with a fitting solution, not punish the needy.

Those two objectives must guide an Indiana General Assembly committee studying a proposal to require food stamp recipients to show a photo ID when they go to the grocery store. The idea, pushed by Republican state legislators, will be reviewed this summer and fall by a committee of lawmakers and could wind up as a bill during the Legislature’s 2014 session. In their offseason study, Hoosier legislators should focus on facts, not exaggeration.

The commonly used term “food stamps” refers to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, created to keep poor people from going hungry. Today, a SNAP recipient is issued an electronic benefits card, similar to a bank debit card, and slides it through the checkout machine at a store. U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines currently require stores to treat SNAP recipients no differently than anyone else.

One of the primary reasons SNAP cardholders are handled equally goes to the heart of the program’s intent — feeding kids. Food-stamp benefits are assigned to families, not individuals. Requiring a photo ID could prevent children in a SNAP family from buying needed groceries. Also, the head of their household — as is the case with many low-income folks — may not possess a state-issued photo ID.

So, why would Indiana legislators try to impose a photo-ID requirement for food stamps after fellow Republicans in a dozen other states failed to enact similar measures? Reports of fraud incidents in a vast federal program understandably aggravate taxpayers. Those illegalities include SNAP cards being trafficked for cash, drugs and guns. The government has a responsibility to track down and prosecute those offenders.

But the vast majority of families receiving SNAP assistance are not scamming the system; the fraudulent use of food stamps is rare and decreasing, according to the USDA, from 4 percent in 1998 to 1 percent today. The ranks of the recipients have indeed grown, from 28 million Americans five years ago to 48 million now. The numbers are up in Indiana, too, from 100,000 recipients 15 years ago to 925,000 in 2013, or 14 percent of Hoosiers.

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