Rob Undersander and his wife, of Waite Park, Minnesota, collected roughly $6,000 in food stamp benefits despite having assets that categorized them as millionaires. They did it to prove a point: not everyone receiving food stamps should be.
Rob Undersander recently testified before a Minnesota House committee on behalf of Rep. Jeff Howe of Rockville, who introduced a bill to change the state’s eligibility process.
“I have obviously gotten your attention,” Undersander said during his testimony.
The Undersanders purposefully applied for and received food stamps for 19 months to determine if anyone who does not need the aid could still receive it. They participated in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program legally, submitting all of the requested documents, which evidenced that they had little income and qualified for benefits.
In his testimony, Undersander pointed out that the value of his assets make him and his wife millionaires, but these assets are not criteria the federal program uses to determine eligibility. The only requirement is proof of income, or lack thereof. While he and his wife received $300 a month in food stamps, Undersander pointed out that people in his same neighborhood who he argued “really needed food stamps” only received roughly $14 worth.
“You knew this was wrong and you did it anyway. I find it pretty despicable," Rep. John Considine, D-Mankato, said in response to Undersander's testimony. "I am just sorry there is no way we can prosecute you.”
Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, however, thanked him for highlighting the problems with the program.
“You should be able to come to a committee without being accused of being a thief,” Franson said.
After the hearing, in a Forum News Service interview, Undersander explained that their reason for applying for aid was to provide a real-life “audit” of the program. Rather than complain about a failed system, he set out to prove it was flawed. While collecting food stamps, the Undersanders donated the equivalent of the monetary value of the food stamps to charities, their church and the poor.
SNAP, although funded through the Department of Agriculture, is administered through state and county governments. Howe’s bill would require assets to be included in deciding who is eligible for food stamps. The asset limit is yet to be determined.
SNAP was originally meant for individuals receiving actual cash welfare. However, Jonathan Ingram, vice president of research at the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA), said that “Minnesota counts anyone who receives a welfare brochure – printed with TANF dollars – as receiving a ‘benefit.’ In practice, that means anyone eligible to receive that welfare brochure is exempt from the asset limit set by federal law.”
Ingram that Minnesota lawmakers created the problem at the center of this story.
"Under state law, anyone applying for food stamps whose income is below a certain threshold can qualify for food stamps, regardless of their wealth or assets," he said. "This exploits a federal loophole – first implemented by the Clinton administration and supercharged by the Obama administration – that allows anyone receiving a TANF ‘benefit’ to qualify for food stamps as ‘categorically eligible,’ meaning the state doesn’t even need to check assets.”
The SNAP loophole identified by the Undersanders isn’t unique to Minnesota. According to an Asset Report produced by FGA, more than 30 states are using the same loophole as Minnesota, which it argues leaves “truly vulnerable citizens at risk.” These states are not complying with the federal law, which “limits assets of food stamp recipients in order to preserve limited resources for the truly needy.” If state legislatures implement “asset tests to the federal baseline,” it notes, “taxpayers could save more than $7 billion nationally.”
Likewise, in a survey of likely voters paid for by FGA, 71 percent of respondents support state governments using the asset test for the SNAP program. The percentage increased, the poll found, when voters are aware that some states have had millionaires enrolled on the program. Sixty-nine percent of voters support the government having access to bank statements to determine eligibility.
Michigan, Mississippi, and Maine have recently implemented the asset test. President Donald Trump’s budget plan and Farm Bill is expected to tighten the loophole.
According to the most recent data available, more than 43.6 million people receive food stamps as of April 2016, compared to 32 million in 2009.