This vote was on an amendment that would have eliminated a federal program that gives bonus payments to states for improving their system for distributing food assistance benefits.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) offered the amendment during consideration of a bill that authorizes federal programs that assist farmers and low-income Americans. Sen. Sessions’ amendment would have eliminated bonus payments that are given to states under the federal nutrition program often referred to as “food stamps.” The bonus payments, which total $48 million per year, are intended for states that efficiently implement the program. The participation rate of a state’s low-income population could be taken into account.
Sen. Sessions argued that the program amounts to a bonus for getting more people to sign up for federal assistance. He argued that it would save taxpayer money and help address what he called the “moral” issue of individuals becoming reliant on government support.
“One of the problems we have with the food stamp program, if you just think about it, is that all the money comes from the federal government but all the administration comes from the states,” Sen. Sessions said. “They have no incentive to manage the program in a way to reduce waste, fraud, and abuse. It really helps their economy if more money comes in from out of state. For the federal government to have a program that rewards states on top of their natural incentives would be wrong.”
Opponents of Sen. Sessions’ amendment argued that the bonus payments have provided an incentive for states to reduce waste, fraud, and abuse. They argued that the underlying bill, which contained a provision clarifying that the bonus payments could be used only to improve efficiency and effectiveness of the program, already addressed Sen. Sessions’ concerns.
“We are talking about improvements in managing errors, reducing errors in the nutrition program,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) said. “(Sen. Sessions’) amendment … would eliminate the error-reduction bonuses that go to state governments. We have seen a 43 percent drop in payment errors as a result of the program.”
Sen. Sessions’ amendment was defeated by a vote of 41-58. Voting “yea” were 41 Republicans. Voting “nay” were 53 Democrats and 5 Republicans. As a result, the Senate defeated the effort to eliminate a federal program that gives bonus payments to states for improving their system for distributing food assistance benefits.