The omnibus spending bill before Congress continues to fund U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) advertising programs for food stamps in foreign countries like Mexico, Breitbart News has learned.
The bill was hashed out between House Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) and Senate Appropriations Committee chairwoman Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). The funding will continue despite claims in a document the House Appropriations Committee published that the bill contains a “prohibition” on such programs. Page three of this press document states regarding food stamps that the omnibus spending bill contains a “prohibition on advertisements or outreach with foreign governments.”
The entire paragraph that contains that statement reads:
Requirements for the Secretary of Agriculture to help weed out and eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse in the SNAP program – including a directive to ban fraudulent vendors, and a prohibition on advertisements or outreach with foreign governments.
However, upon reading through the text of the bill and the bill summary explanatory document, there is no such “prohibition” included in it. Instead, the explanatory document that Rogers published just states that USDA is “strongly discouraged” from advertising food stamps programs with foreign governments.
“There is concern about the use of valuable tax dollars to promote enrollment of SNAP through radio, television, and other advertisements as well as outreach activities with foreign governments to encourage the use of SNAP,” the explanatory document Rogers published states. “USDA is strongly encouraged to cease these types of government-sponsored recruitment activities.”
There is a massive difference between actually prohibiting the use of funds via law through the omnibus bill, or defunding the program, and merely issuing a strongly-worded warning to the USDA about the practice.
House Appropriations Committee spokeswoman Jennifer Hing admitted to Breitbart News that there is not really a “prohibition” on funding for such programs.
“The committee’s position is that for practical purposes, this language is a ‘directive’ to ‘ban,'” Hing said in an email on Tuesday. “It is binding in that decisions on future SNAP funding could hinge on compliance.”
Yet the mere threat of future repercussions if the USDA continues these practices does nothing to stop them now.
Current USDA secretary Tom Vilsack has promoted this policy of advertising food stamps programs with foreign governments and evaded oversight pressure from various members of Congress, like Senate Budget Committee ranking member Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), on the matter.
In a July 18, 2012, letter to Vilsack, for instance, Sessions wrote that the USDA has not complied with oversight requests from his staff on this matter – and that the advertising of U.S. food stamps programs in foreign countries like Mexico represents a gross departure from food stamps’ original purpose.
“It has become increasingly clear that the mission of the food stamp program has moved from targeted welfare assistance for those in need into an aggressive drive to expand enrollment regardless of need,” Sessions wrote to Vilsack. “To cite just one example, a character in a USDA-produced Spanish language ‘radio novela’ tries to convince a friend to enroll in food stamps even though that individual says ‘I don’t need anyone’s help. My husband earns enough to take care of us.’ The first individual responds, ‘When are you going to learn?’ Pride ought to be celebrated, not mocked.”
Sessions followed up again with Vilsack in March 2013 after the secretary provided the senator with a minimal response that did not fully answer his questions.
Similarly, during the Senate Budget Committee markup of the Democratic budget that Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) offered last year, Sessions offered an amendment that would have ended the USDA’s partnership with Mexico on food stamp advertising in that country. Senate Democrats unanimously voted against that Sessions amendment.
The omnibus spending bill from Rogers and Mikulski is the second part of the budget deal that House Budget Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) cut with Murray. The Ryan-Murray deal set broad outlays, while the Rogers-Mikulski omnibus spending bill offers specific funding directed at various programs and agencies as part of a reflection of the broader guidelines of the Ryan-Murray deal.