U.S. Sen. John Kennedy is proposing legislation that would allow the federal government to administer Louisiana's food stamp program through non-government entities if the cash-strapped state can't afford to keep the program running.
"I hope it doesn't turn out to be necessary, but if it does I'm prepared to talk to leaders in the House and Senate and take it to the president directly," said Kennedy, who joined the Senate in 2017 after several years as state treasurer.
Under Kennedy's proposal, as he described on a call with reporters Wednesday afternoon, the U.S. Department of Agriculture would distribute the $1.4 billion in federal funding that Louisiana receives to pay for food stamps for thousands of residents through local food banks and faith-based groups.
Kennedy said he had not shared the proposal with Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat. The two are frequently at odds. This week, Kennedy accused Edwards of using scare tactics to leverage support for the upcoming special session, which will be the third this year to address the fiscal cliff the state faces when more than $1 billion in temporary tax measures expire at the end of the month. He also called on Edwards to resign if he couldn't keep food stamps afloat.
Unless additional revenue is raised in another special session that begins Monday, the Department of Children and Family Services, DCFS, that administers the food stamps program, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), would take a deep cut to its budget.
The Edwards administration has said that the potential cut is so severe, that the state would no longer be able to administer the federally-funded program, which means Louisiana could become the first state to no longer have food stamps.
Nearly 20 percent of Louisiana residents receive SNAP benefits.
"It obviously touches a lot of our people," Kennedy said.
Edwards' deputy chief of staff Richard Carbo said that the governor is open to suggestions.
"This is the first we’ve heard of the senator’s idea, and we’re glad to see that he’s finally acknowledging that there are real consequences from budget cuts that would be imposed without action from the Legislature," Carbo said.
Carbo said DCFS already has already alerted the federal government about the issue it faces.
"They have given no indication that they are willing or able to do what the senator is suggesting," Carbo said. "However, we welcome any constructive input from Sen. Kennedy, but are hopeful that the legislature acts in the upcoming special session to resolve this problem once and for all.
Kennedy said he believes that private entities often perform better than the government but he isn't calling for a complete privatization of the program.
"I wouldn't make that suggestion in normal times," he said.