Read full Story on NBC NEWS: INSIDE THE FLORIDA NONPROFIT PUSHING TO SLASH FOOD STAMP ROLLS NATIONWIDE: As Debt Ceiling Negotiators Evaluate Work Requirements for Safety Net Programs, the Foundation for Government Accountability Pushes for Multiple Legislative Approaches to Limit Public Assistance.
Tarren Bragdon, the founder, and CEO of the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA), recently acknowledged the organization’s longstanding presence and its influence in the realm of welfare and government assistance. Despite lacking the substantial resources and backing of prominent conservative institutions, the Naples, Florida-based think tank has actively championed Republican endeavors to strengthen work requirements for programs like food stamps and Medicaid. While these efforts are largely focused on the state level, they have yielded significant victories, resulting in the gradual reduction of benefits for low-income individuals across numerous states.
In a series of interviews, several hunger relief groups from different regions identified the FGA as their primary opponent in an escalating policy battle over safety net benefits. Concerns were raised regarding the FGA’s potential response, prompting one aid organization to hesitate in drawing attention to its own initiatives, fearing a lobbying onslaught from the FGA aimed at diminishing food stamp payments in their state.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides assistance to millions of Americans to purchase groceries, had approximately 42.5 million enrollees as of February. Despite experiencing a 3.2% increase from the previous year, this figure does not account for the expiration of enhanced pandemic-era benefits for millions of recipients.
Bragdon clarified that only about 20% of the FGA’s policy work focuses on welfare and unemployment issues. However, the think tank and its lobbying arm have played a pivotal role in advocating for tighter access to safety net programs, often being the sole providers of research presented in state legislatures. Their research aims to establish the notion that limited access to such programs encourages more individuals to enter the workforce.
As the FGA continues to operate, it remains a potent force in shaping welfare policies and exerting influence at both the state and national levels. Despite its relatively modest stature, the organization has successfully advanced its agenda, leading to the gradual reduction of benefits for vulnerable populations across the United States.
Despite recent research indicating that states with low unemployment rates often have the highest food stamp enrollments, the conservative argument against generous public assistance has resonated in the current economic climate. The Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) proudly highlighted in its 2022 annual report over 45 policy victories related to unemployment and welfare, emphasizing their impact in facilitating Americans’ return to the workforce and curbing wasteful spending that may discourage work.
In an interview with NBC News, Tarren Bragdon, CEO of the FGA, emphasized that there is no better time for individuals to transition from welfare dependency to employment. With nearly 10 million job openings available, many offering starting wages of $12 to $14 per hour, Bragdon expressed optimism about empowering individuals to achieve self-sufficiency and realize the American dream.
The ultimate goal of the FGA, as Bragdon explained, is to assist individuals in becoming self-sufficient, enabling them to experience economic independence and achieve their aspirations. By promoting policies that encourage workforce participation and discourage long-term reliance on welfare programs, the FGA strives to create a society where individuals can thrive and fulfill their potential.
In the realm of policy think tanks and lobbying groups in Washington, the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) and the Opportunity Solutions Project (OSP) may be smaller operations, but they are steadily making inroads with their limited resources. These organizations have been successful in attracting funding, building influential alliances, and advocating for their policy ideas. While their efforts to tighten work requirements for safety net programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) have faced criticism, they continue to make their mark on Capitol Hill and beyond.
Expanding Reach and Staffing: Despite their relatively small size, the FGA and OSP are making significant strides in Washington. The FGA has four dedicated federal affairs managers responsible for sharing policy ideas with lawmakers, and its spokesperson reports a staff of nearly 50 full-time employees and around 60 contractors, including 15 attorneys. In the case of the OSP, a tax-exempt organization, it operates with a budget of approximately $4 million and deploys lobbyists in over 30 states, as well as in Washington, D.C.
Fundraising and Funding Sources: Both organizations maintain a level of privacy regarding their funding sources, a common practice among privately run policy groups. The FGA estimates that around 35% of its funding comes from individuals, primarily entrepreneurs who have experienced the American dream. Another 25% of its funding comes from foundations, with less than 1% coming from public companies. While media reports have linked the FGA’s donors to conservative powerhouses such as Koch-network entities and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the group keeps the identities of its donors confidential.
Key Allies in Congress: The FGA has successfully cultivated influential allies on Capitol Hill, including Senator Rick Scott of Florida. Senator Scott introduced the “Let’s Get to Work Act” to tighten work requirements for SNAP and public housing clients, a measure that received praise from the FGA. Other congressional Republicans, such as Representative Glenn “GT” Thompson of Pennsylvania and Representative Kat Cammack of Florida, have also received endorsements from the FGA’s CEO, Tarren Bragdon, for their proposals related to work requirements. These alliances provide the FGA with valuable support in advancing its policy agenda.
Influence on Agricultural Policy: The FGA has also built ties with lawmakers involved in shaping agricultural policy, particularly related to the reauthorization of the farm bill. Representative Kat Cammack, who serves on the House Agriculture Committee, has a history with the FGA and joined Tarren Bragdon for a virtual panel discussion on her proposal to roll back executive branch regulatory powers. Representative Thompson, the chair of the House Agriculture Committee, has shown openness to tweaking SNAP but expressed frustration with Democrats’ resistance to making changes. These connections give the FGA opportunities to influence policy discussions that directly impact SNAP and related programs.
Critiques and Challenges: Critics of the FGA argue that tightening access to SNAP does not necessarily drive individuals to find employment. Some economists point out that states with high SNAP participation rates also have low unemployment rates, suggesting that other factors contribute to poverty and food insecurity. Additionally, anti-hunger advocates have highlighted flaws in the FGA’s presentation of data, such as using limited snapshots rather than more comprehensive sources for employment trends. Opponents argue that policies should consider the fluctuating nature of low-wage jobs and the potential disincentives created by asset tests and reporting requirements.
Limited Success and Ongoing Efforts: Despite its growing influence, the FGA has not always achieved its desired outcomes. Proposals to implement asset tests and tie food stamp benefits to child support cooperation faced defeat in states such as Ohio, Montana, and Kansas. However, the FGA remains resilient and considers these issues as potential messaging victories in debates