WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is promising increased cooperation with states in the operation of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to promote self-sufficiency, integrity in the program, and better customer service. To make these improvements, USDA intends to offer state agencies greater local control over SNAP, the safety net program that serves millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families. Specifics on such flexibilities will be communicated to state agencies in the coming weeks.
“SNAP was created to provide people with the help they need to feed themselves and their families, but it was not intended to be a permanent lifestyle,” said Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “As a former Governor, I know first-hand how important it is for states to be given flexibility to achieve the desired goal of self-sufficiency for people. We want to provide the nutrition people need, but we also want to help them transition from government programs, back to work, and into lives of independence.”
The broad outlines of the coming flexibilities aimed at transitioning people into independence were described today by Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Acting Deputy Under Secretary and Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) Administrator Brandon Lipps to state human services officials as part of a meeting of the Secretaries’ Innovation Group(SIG). SIG is a membership organization of state human service and workforce secretaries who share innovations and push for national solutions which favor healthy families, work, economic self-reliance, budget responsibility, and limited government.
The pledge to provide greater local control to help people achieve self-sufficiency echoed themes Lipps expressed in a letter (PDF, 527 KB) to all state SNAP commissioners last week. Lipps’ letter listed the areas the new flexibilities will address:
- Self-Sufficiency – The American dream has never been to live on government benefits. People who can work, should work. We must facilitate the transition for individuals and families to become independent, specifically by partnering with key stakeholders in the workforce development community and holding our recipients accountable for personal responsibility.
- Integrity – We must ensure our programs are run with the utmost integrity. We will not tolerate waste, fraud, or abuse from those who seek to undermine our mission or who do not take their responsibility seriously.
- Customer Service – Together, we must ensure that our programs serve SNAP participants well. In order to achieve a high degree of customer service, we at FNS must also provide States the flexibility to test new and better ways to administer our programs, recognizing that we are all accountable to the American taxpayer for the outcomes.
“We believe states are laboratories of innovation and seek to learn from you what works and what does not,” Lipps wrote. “As necessary to address each of these focus areas, we will allow greater state flexibility in areas that do not increase costs to taxpayers or our various partners on the ground.”
As FNS announces specific new flexibilities for promoting independence in the coming weeks, the agency will also continue to welcome additional ideas from the states that improve program integrity and best serve the participant and the American taxpayer. Guided by Secretary Perdue’s direction to “do right and feed everyone,” FNS will engage all relevant stakeholders throughout this process.
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service administers 15 nutrition assistance programs that include the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and the Summer Food Service Program. Together, these programs comprise America’s nutrition safety net. For more information, visit www.fns.usda.gov.
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