The political philosophy of the day — especially in Alabama — advocates a return of power to the states. Few have been more vocal in proclaiming our right to be free of federal interference than U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Mobile.
Which is why the rationale he gave for an amendment that would have reduced the food-stamp program came as a surprise.
"The way the system is arranged — with states administering the program but the feds paying for it — states have an incentive to see their food-stamp budgets swell, not shrink," Sessions said on the Senate floor this month. "That means overlooking a dramatic amount of fraud and abuse."
Sessions was not just talking about other, less responsible, states. He was talking about Alabama.
"We've got as many as one in five in Alabama benefiting from food stamps," Sessions said. "I doubt that's necessary."
The federal law that Sessions wanted to change gives states the option of testing the assets of food-stamp recipients. Alabama did so until 2010. It discontinued the practice because it found almost no abuse of the system — which primarily benefits seniors and families with young children — and the cost of the asset tests outweighed the slim savings.
Sessions is wise to weed out any fraud in the system, but he is wrong to think the large number of Alabamians on food stamps is sinister.
Twenty percent of Alabamians live in poverty, the third-highest rate in the nation. According to a report released Thursday, 23 percent of Alabama families — more than in all but two states — saw their available income drop by more than 25 percent in 2009 and 2010.
Sessions placed himself in an odd position in his fight to reduce food-stamp expenditures.
His constituents — poor even before the recession — have a greater need for food assistance than the constituents of almost any other senator in the nation. His plan for reducing the desperately needed assistance was to reduce state autonomy.
Even as Sessions lobbied for a reduction in food-stamp expenditures and to undermine state control over the food-stamp program, he was fighting to continue direct subsidies to peanut farmers.
While Sessions failed in both of his efforts, his Alabama colleagues in the House are likely to have more success. That's bad news for Alabamians who need food stamps, who have an average income of $730 per month. It could be good news for Alabama's few peanut-farm owners, who averaged $40,000 a year in federal subsidies.
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