Democrats in a House agriculture subcommittee lashed out at a retired millionaire who applied for and received food stamps in an effort to prove that eligibility for the government benefits in his home state of Minnesota were too lax and could be easily exploited.
Rob Undersander noticed several years back that income was the only criterion for receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps.
A retired engineer with a seven-figure nest egg but no real income, Undersander decided to perform an experiment to determine if someone as well-off as he and his wife could obtain the benefits.
"I've got the [SNAP] form in my hand and I'm thinking of my financial situation, and I said ‘you know, I just can't believe this,'" Undersander told the Washington Free Beacon by phone earlier this week. "So I went down to the second floor of the Sterns County Courthouse, stood in line a little bit, handed in the application and three weeks later I'm getting food stamps, a balance on my EBT card."
Although he was not invited to formally testify, Undersander was in attendance at a Thursday subcommittee meeting designed to look at "broad-based categorical eligibility" for benefits like SNAP.
Undersander maintains he did not falsify any portion of his application, and that therefore everything he did was completely legal. He says he also carefully tracked and donated all of the monies he received from the program back into his community to benefit the needy.
House Democrats, however, were not happy.
"And let me just also say for the record, I think if someone intentionally defrauds the federal government, they ought to go to jail," said Rep. Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts.
"Mr. Undersander did not break the law, he simply abided by the rules that were in place, so he didn't defraud anybody," said Rep. Mike Conaway, Republican from Texas.
"He intentionally defrauded the federal government," McGovern shot back. "That is, in my opinion, breaking the law."
McGovern's office did not respond to requests for comment from the Free Beacon as to how specifically Undersander broke a law, or questions as to whether he would refer Undersander to the attention of a U.S. attorney for prosecution.
Republicans have argued that the loose eligibility requirements create an environment in which resources might be diverted away from the truly needy.
"I'm a flat-out 10th Amendment kind of guy as well, but these are federal resources that we're talking about and the states should have restrictions on how those resources are deployed, and I don't think it's unreasonable that those restrictions make sense," Conaway said in his opening statement.
"Having an asset test ignored on SNAP is regrettable."
Being threatened with prosecution is not new for Undersander.
"You knew this was wrong and you did it anyway," a Democratic Minnesota state lawmaker said to Undersander in 2018 as tightening the state eligibility rules was under debate. "I find it pretty despicable. … I am just sorry there is no way we can prosecute you."
Republican staffers told the Free Beacon Democrats were holding the hearing in anticipation of rule changes that could be delivered soon from the White House that might tighten some eligibility and distribution elements of the program.
Democrats in the Thursday hearing repeatedly referred to what they described as a war on the poor.
"You willfully and maliciously gamed the SNAP," said subcommittee Chairwoman Marcia Fudge, a Democrat from Ohio, addressing Undersander.
"You, an alleged millionaire, used mischaracterizations of your finances to cheat the program. You took benefits meant for the very seniors in Minnesota you served through your volunteer work. And you did this all to continue the right-wing crusade against poor people."
The conservative leaning think tank Foundation for Government Accountability produced a video highlighting Undersander's story. "When I filled out that form, I used an abundance of honesty and caution," Undersander said in it.
"I was honestly hoping it [the application] would be denied."