Farm bill presents opportunity to improve SNAP program
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The House and Senate are engaged in conference action to finalize the 2018 farm bill. Rep. Vicky HartzlerVicky Jo HartzlerSchumer calls on McConnell to hold vote on Equality Act House approves anti-LGBT discrimination Equality Act House votes to condemn Trump's transgender military ban MORE (R-Mo.) is leading the charge to include a provision to give states the freedom and flexibility to use contracted services to administer parts of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program. This common-sense change would modernize outdated and burdensome requirements that have existed since 1977 when technology and private sector capacity and resources were very different.

Hartzler’s proposed provision would empower states with the freedom to contract with private sector for-profit and nonprofit entities. This initiative has received broad, bipartisan support from organizations like the American Public Human Services Association, which represents state and local human services officials around the country. We believe states need this flexibility to improve program efficiency, speed up application processing, and ensure better program accountability. The flexibility amendment would be entirely at the state’s option, based on their assessment of the most effective way to deliver SNAP benefits to their clients. Any state wishing not to contract out administrative functions would not utilize the option.

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Many states are grappling with meeting significant federal and state administrative expectations in SNAP and would like to have the option not only to use vendors but even bring back former experienced employees to help perform eligibility functions in SNAP as they already can in a number of other programs.

For example, no similar prohibition exists in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which was enacted in 1997 and has always enjoyed broad, bipartisan support. A number of CHIP programs in both Republican- and Democratic-led states have successfully used contract staff to efficiently and effectively operate the CHIP program without growing the number of, or overwhelming existing, government employees. Similar broad flexibility to contract already exists in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Child Support Enforcement programs, and even Medicaid is more flexible than SNAP. This ability to quickly scale up resources and bring in added expertise – a tactic regularly deployed by the private sector to meet fluctuations in demand – will also aid states in managing the long-term budget issues facing states across the country.

Hartzler should be commended for pursuing these common-sense reforms to SNAP, empowering states with the flexibility to use contractors to handle administrative functions under state supervision or to complement the work of their existing staff. Given our first-hand experience overseeing these programs in two very different states, we recognize how important it is that states have the tools necessary to independently address and make decisions as to how to most effectively allocate SNAP resources and assist those in need. We ask that Congress and the members of the conference committee ensure states are given the flexibility to manage these programs in the way they think best meets the needs of their citizens and in a way that best values taxpayer dollars. There is no reason this provision should be lost in the partisan debate that has delayed the current farm bill process. 

Steve Corsi is the Director of the Missouri Department of Social Services. Russell Sykes is the Former Deputy Commissioner of the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.