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New Proposal to Close Welfare Loophole Couldn't Come at Worse Time for the Poor

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As Congress finally comes together to settle the matters of budget and deficit that they have been putting off for years, it seems that many of the cuts are coming on the backs of those in troubled economic circumstances.

The first wave in the War on Welfare came when food stamps were cut right before Thanksgiving. The second salvo came with the cutting of an extension of unemployment benefits that had been in place since the darkest days of the recession.

Although the Democrats have made reinstatement a priority when Congress gets back to business after the holiday break, it comes as little consolation to the 1.3 million people who lost their benefits.

Now there is a new proposal to close a loophole in the system that helped families have a slightly higher food budget.

When calculating a family’s income to determine their level of SNAP benefit, the family’s expenses are taken into consideration. If a family qualifies for energy assistance (known as Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program or LIHEAP) special rules apply and the family gets a bigger budget for food. Some states have been putting households on LIHEAP for about one dollar per year, thus the extra benefit kicks in.

According to Senator Tom Harkin (D.-Iowa), that’s “gaming” the system.

The proposal states that a higher LIHEAP payment of $20 is necessary to activate the special benefits.

Frankly, the Editorial Board of The Washington Post is right: the loophole should be closed.

Despite the intentions behind it—for “good” or “ill”—it is obvious that this measure was not intended to be utilized this way. Had there not just been cuts to both SNAP and unemployment, this would be responsible legislative oversight.

What’s troubling about it all is that yet again the solution is to exclude the needy rather than reforming the administrative side of the process.

This is an old debate.

The Associated Press reported on this very issue in the summer of 2012, and back then the “proposals [were] going nowhere in the Senate.” Now, with time and the 2014 mid-terms looming, deals are being made and it seems as if the Democrats have neither the will to fight for those they claim to represent or the creativity to find a better solution.

The welfare system in this country certainly has its issues, but it also has a reputation as a wanton agency fraught with abuse that doesn’t match with reality. According to The Department of Agriculture, in 2010 only three percent of payments went to people who didn’t “need” them or were “excessive.” The prevailing myth that most people on food stamps are gaming the system and living a life of not-earned luxury is both false and mean-spirited. The program should do more to increase the upward mobility-potential of those who use it, but cutting off millions of families to save money is not the way to do it. 

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