WASHINGTON – In Moorhead, to qualify for government cash assistance, residents must have lower incomes than people living right next door in Fargo, N.D.
This discrepancy upsets U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, a Democrat whose Seventh Congressional District includes Moorhead. Some Minnesota residents make slightly too much to receive benefits by Minnesota law while their counterparts making the same income across the state line are getting help. It’s a problem echoed across the country because states set their own cash benefit standards.
“We have to work on how we treat different people differently in different parts of the country,” Peterson said.
The House Agriculture Committee — where Peterson is the highest ranking Democrat — just began its review of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program, to address a glaring problem: Though unemployment has fallen since the recession, numbers of food stamp recipients have remained constant.
Some Republicans wonder whether the program is increasing its recipients’ dependency on welfare.
Peterson understands the concern, but he doesn’t think the food stamp program should be touched — at least for now.
Funding for food stamps is tucked into the farm bill, a sprawling piece of legislation — which was passed and signed by President Obama last year — that has perks for both urban and rural lawmakers: government aid through programs like food stamps and cash assistance and government aid through programs like sugar beet price supports.
After years of work with both rural and urban lawmakers, Peterson achieved a bill that both GOP House Speaker John Boehner and Democrat Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi supported.
It took delicate politicking.
And he doesn’t want to move around the stack of hay just yet.
“I don’t think we should do anything because we did the farm bill and it’s a five-year bill and they [Republicans] had their chance and it didn’t get done,” Peterson said.
The committee’s GOP Chairman Rep. Michael Conaway, of Texas, said there may be a legislative proposal to tackle food stamp inconsistencies.
“What we don’t want is for this program to hold people back from achieving their potential,” he said.
Children in Minnesota made up 44 percent of food stamp recipients in fiscal 2013, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; the center reported the food stamp program reached one in 10 Minnesotans in fiscal 2014.
Jackie Poidinger of Hennepin County’s SNAP said she is working to ensure the county’s eligible recipients know about the program and can escape any stigma surrounding it. She said recipients don’t receive a great deal of money monthly from the program.
“It really is there to supplement people’s income so they can have access to healthy foods,” she said.