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EDITORIAL: Sisolak opposes efforts to rein in food stamp fraud

People should have to be eligible for food stamps in order to receive them. Gov. Steve Sisolak disagrees.

Last week, Mr. Sisolak and 16 other Democrat governors sent a letter to the Department of Agriculture objecting to a proposed rule change. Currently, states can give categorical eligibility for food stamps to someone who receives a benefit from another means-tested program. The formal name for food stamps is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The Trump administration wants to eliminate that presumption and ensure that those receiving SNAP benefits actually qualify for them.

“Should this proposed rule take effect as written, hundreds of thousands or beneficiaries in our states would lose access to basic food assistance,” Mr. Sisolak and the other governors wrote.

That sounds concerning until you look at the details. The idea behind automatically qualifying individuals for SNAP benefits was to cut down on paperwork. If someone already qualified for a means-tested benefit, like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, there was no reason to qualify him a second time. But the Clinton and Obama administrations expanded the idea of “broad-based categorical eligibility” into something unrecognizable. If someone received any benefit through programs like TANF — including an information brochure — he qualified for SNAP.

States had to choose to accept this expanded definition. Under pressure from the Obama administration, the majority did. Forty states, including Nevada, use this method to determine eligibility.

The Department of Agriculture estimates that 3.1 million people, 8 percent of total SNAP enrollees, only qualify because of this expanded eligibility. Investigations in other states have found millionaires receiving benefits through this loophole.

The Trump administration wants to end it. The new rules would “limit categorical eligibility to those who receive substantial, ongoing assistance from TANF.” That’s defined as “benefits valued at a minimum of $50 per month for at least 6 months.” In other words, receiving a brochure wouldn’t automatically qualify someone for SNAP.

In Nevada, a rule like this would mean 58,000 fewer people using SNAP, according to an estimate by the Foundation for Government Accountability. That would save taxpayers $77 million a year. Nationwide, the savings would be in the billions.

The Trump administration rightly wants to ensure that those receiving government benefits actually qualify for them. This should be lauded as good governance, not used by demagogues as an opportunity to score cheap political points.

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