Auditor grilled over food stamp probe

Democrats question why Ohio is targeting program that benefits poor people.

Rep. Marcia Fudge of Cleveland sharply quizzed state Auditor David Yost for his report on food stamp fraud in Ohio, demanding to know why he focused on a program that benefits poor people rather than another federal program such as crop insurance.

In a contentious exchange Wednesday during a House hearing in which Yost complained the Cleveland Democrat had “cut me off” as he tried to answer a question, Fudge cast doubt on whether the Republican state auditor had uncovered substantial fraud in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as food stamps.

In particular, Fudge and other Democrats on the House agriculture committee appeared irritated with Yost’s suggestion that the food stamp program be overhauled by having the federal government finance it through separate block grants to each state.

“I think this is all a set-up,” Fudge complained after she left the hearing. “He says that he’s looking at the structural problems and I’m sure there are some, but all he talked about was fraud,” adding “you don’t come and talk about fraud and block-granting the program.”

The sharp questioning erupted in what had been a relatively tame hearing as Yost outlined an audit released last week in which he concluded “there are likely millions of dollars in fraud” in Ohio’s $2.5 billion program. Food Stamps allow nearly 47 million low-income Americans to buy food every year.

“I do not believe fraud is rampant in Ohio, but it does exist and it is significant,” Yost testified. “Food stamp fraud hardens the hearts of good people and deafens their ears to the sound of hunger.”

But when Fudge had her chance to question Yost, she unleashed an aggressive series of questions. “How can you make the suggestion that there is over $100 million in fraud in the state of Ohio?”

“I think what I said was millions, which would be more than two,” Yost replied.

When Yost said he was not suggesting “there should be cuts to the program,” Fudge interrupted to ask, “I didn’t ask that question. How much actual fraud did you find?”

Later, as Yost said his office had uncovered “a variety” if misspending in other federal programs, Fudge asked, “What about crop insurance? What has your audit found about that?”

“I don’t know if we ever looked at crop insurance?” Yost replied.

“Ohio is an agriculture state,” she said. “It’s a federal program.”

Yost appeared to strike a nerve among Democrats when in his prepared remarks he suggested “an overarching principle for reform: Block-granting this program to the states.”

Republicans have argued the federal government should provide block grants to the states and allow them to design many of the domestic programs operated and financed by the federal government. Democrats tend to oppose block grants, fearing they will lead to fewer benefits for low-income people.