WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - The president has an out-of-the-box idea for reshaping the country's social safety net. But lawmakers from both sides of the aisle said they're unlikely to seriously consider a drastic change to the way 45 million Americans get food.
President Donald Trump wants to repackage America's food assistance program. Rather than getting assistance in the form of a debit card, the president's recent budget proposal calls for boxing up food and sending it directly to the neediest families.
West Virginia's Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito said she supports much of the president's budget proposal, but isn't sold on that idea. "I'll give him points for being creative," she said.
One in five families in her state receives assistance, and she worries that if they don't pick their own groceries, food will go un-eaten and get wasted. That's not to say she doesn't see a need for change. "Saving money in the SNAP program is something we should absolutely have to do," she said.
The federal government spends about $80-billion on SNAP helping to feed about 14 percent of Americans. The president's budget banks on cutting $17-billion from the program for the fiscal year that begins in October.
"There's no question, there's waste," said Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa), "but this isn't the way to do it."
Loebsack said the approximately one-in-eight Iowans who receive help deserve fresh food. He also said he worries Trump's plan would substantially increase the multi-billion dollar cost of managing the current program.
Government accountability reports show the rate of improper payments is trending down. But, even with that rate just over three percent - that still adds up to more than $2.5 billion in misspent taxpayer money.
Rep. Adrain Smith (R-Nebraska) voiced neither support nor opposition to the president's bold idea. "We want the policy to be the right policy," he said, "the dollars might be saved, it really should be secondary to achieving good policy." Smith said he does believes reworking the SNAP program could help low-income Americans. "Sometimes the public benefits are actually a barrier," he said.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Virginia) said he's open to making the program more efficient. But, he doesn't any good options, and the president's idea isn't one of them. "Even see the vast majority of republicans kind of say this idea doesn't have a lot of merit," said Warner, "and frankly it doesn't even pass the small test
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle said it's hard to see how the president wins the necessary votes for his out-of-the-box proposal. "The president is going to propose and we're going to dispose," said Loebsack.
What, if anything, Congress will do likely won't be settled until this fall.