By Francis Scarcella and Ashley Wislock
The Daily Item
SUNBURY — U.S. Rep. Tom Marino might make Jason Greenslate the poster boy for his fight to create accountability in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Greenslate garnered national attention last week when Fox News’ John Roberts interviewed the 29-year-old Californian, a surfer who chooses not to work and happily collects $200 a month in federal food assistance.
He purchases as much sushi and gourmet lobster as $200 can buy.
Then it’s off to the beach.
A Huffington Post survey on Friday showed that more Americans are annoyed by the idea of food stamp recipients using benefits to buy expensive food than using them to buy junk food.
Fifty-four percent of Americans think people should not be allowed to use food stamps to buy expensive items such as crab legs, while only 32 percent said that they should be allowed to do so, according to the Huffington Post.
The number of people using food stamps through SNAP has increased by an average of 13 percent a year from 2008 to 2012, according to The Washington Post.
After Marino, R-10 of Cogan Station, began his quest to clean up SNAP, he introduced legislation in April to establish a system to track items purchased with SNAP benefits.
In June, Marino’s “SNAP transparency” amendment failed, leaving the second-term congressman saying he will continue to fight to save the $80 billion that he says is being wasted.
The SNAP Transparency Act of 2013 “would establish a system to report items purchased with SNAP benefits — formerly known as food stamps — and requires the secretary of agriculture to publish the information online in a searchable, comparable format,” Marino said.
Marino’s amendment would have directed the Government Accountability Office to create a pilot program to collect and make public data that is required to be reported under the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 by those retailers and stores participating in SNAP.
The office would then determine if current reporting requirements could be used to determine the specific food items being purchased with benefits through SNAP, Marino said.
“This common-sense amendment would have finally brought a little transparency and accountability to an $80-plus billion program,” Marino said. “It is inconceivable that at a time when Americans are demanding increased transparency and accountability, more than 80 percent of my colleagues are simply ‘OK’ with having no clue as to how these dollars are really spent.”
Marino claims that in 2012 alone, $80 billion of taxpayer money was spent on SNAP. In 2013, it is estimated the cost of the program will exceed $82.5 billion.
“I am extremely disappointed that big business and special interest groups perpetrated myths about my amendment, falsely claiming it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, require extensive data mining and place an unprecedented mandate on America’s food retailers,” Marino said. “All of these statements are false.”
Marino vowed to continue his fight.
“I will not give this up, and I will continue to move forward and continue to speak to people,” Marino said.
“This pilot program simply would have collected the data that is already required of those retailers and stores currently accepting food stamps. It is ironic that my opponents argued that because there may be a compliance cost for a program that is completely voluntary for retailers, we should just forgo any meaningful oversight of how these taxpayer dollars are being spent.”
The SNAP program — run through the state’s Department of Public Welfare — is designed to “buy food and help eligible low-income households in Pennsylvania obtain more nutritious diets by increasing their food purchasing power at grocery stores and supermarkets,” according to the program’s website.
Families that meet certain income requirements are eligible for the program, with the state setting maximum monthly benefits for families based on size of the family.
Certain items can be purchased with SNAP benefits, while other items are excluded, according to the DPW’s SNAP Handbook, available online.
Eligible items include food for human consumption, including soft drinks, candy, ice cream, coffee and spices, and seeds and plants to grow food for personal consumption. Prohibited items include alcoholic beverages, pet foods, hot foods or hot food products prepared for immediate consumption and non-food items, such as paper products, soap, household supplies, medicines and tobacco products.
A report by the Pennsylvania Office of Inspector General, which investigates welfare fraud cases, said the agency prevented $75 million in welfare fraud in 2012 and received $42 million in restitution and reimbursement for fraudulently used funds.