WASHINGTON (FNS) -- The presidents of the National-American Wholesale Grocers' Association and the Food Marketing Institute told a House panel they favored turning over the food stamp program to the states, as long as it remains designated for nutrition.
NAWGA president John R. Block and FMI president Tim Hammonds said they wanted to ensure that the food stamp portion of a grant specifically earmarked for food stamp coupons or the electronic benefits transfer system -- rather than lumped in with many other programs.
House Republicans have proposed combining nearly 50 welfare programs into three huge block grants that would be turned over to the states. The plan is to give states the discretion to spend the money according to local needs. Federal funding for these programs -- welfare and child care and child welfare -- would be provided to the states in predetermined lump sums. States would be given broad discretion to operate the programs and to determine eligibility.
The food industry supports trimming welfare costs, but fears food stamp revenues to their stores could decrease under the current proposal.
"These programs should not be simply cashed out," Hammonds told the House Subcommittee on Department Operations, Nutrition and Foreign Agriculture. "Research has demonstrated that removing the link between program benefits and the actual purchase of food results in the deterioration of nutritional diets, especially for our children."
Block stressed the importance of the national food assistance program and said, "There should be no higher priority in welfare reform than the integration of the state level of the Food Stamp and AFDC [Aid to Families With Dependent Children] programs."
Hammonds and Block urged the government to move more quickly on its electronic benefits transfer to improve the food stamp program and reduce fraud and abuse. Tom Zaucha, president and chief executive of the National Grocers Association, urged the subcommittee to support the electronic system. "The delivery of benefits through a nationwide electronic benefit system is the best answer for reducing fraud, increasing efficiency and reducing the administrative burden for the public and private sector as well as the recipient," Zaucha said in a statement.