ST. PAUL-Millionaire Rob Undersander sat at a Minnesota House witness stand saying he received food stamps for 19 months to prove a point: Not everyone who gets the aid needs it.
Democratic legislators did not like his Wednesday, April 11, testimony, particularly Rep. John Considine, D-Mankato.
"You knew this was wrong and you did it anyway," Considine said while staring at Undersander. "I find it pretty despicable. .... I am just sorry there is no way we can prosecute you."
Gasps filled the nearly packed room, especially from the Republican side of the committee table.
Undersander said that he got the food stamps, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, legally because he and his wife had little income for the 19 months they took food stamps. He plenty of assets, which he said qualifies him to be a millionaire, but assets such as property and bank accounts are not used to determine whether someone qualifies for food stamps. Only income is.
Undersander was on the witness stand to support legislation by Rep. Jeff Howe, R-Rockville, that would include assets when approving food stamps. The Howe bill has further steps before reaching a full House vote.
The Waite Park millionaire, the focus of most of the Wednesday discussion, said while he received about $300 a month in food stamps some people in his area who really need the help got just $14.
Rep. Laurie Halverson, D-Eagan, joined others in her party to criticize Undersander.
"I am finding it incredibly offensive that $6,000 in benefits were taken," Halvorson said.
Added Rep. Jennifer Schultz, D-Duluth: "I think it is inappropriate to apply for these benefits."
In a Forum News Service interview, Undersander said that he signed up for food stamps to "audit" the program. He and his wife accepted food stamps from the middle of 2016 to early this year. He said receiving the food stamps would do more to prove that some people get food stamps when they do not need them than if he just said it without the experience.
He said that he donated the equivalent of the food stamps to charities, his church and the needy.
Undersander said he accomplished his goal.
"I have obviously gotten your attention," he told lawmakers.
Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, praised the Waite Park man.
"I am really sorry about the line of questioning that has been put forth, and the accusations..." she said. "You should be able to come to a committee without being accused of being a thief."
The food stamp program uses federal money, but is state and county administered. Howe's bill would require assets to be included in deciding who is eligible for food stamps. However, he said, he wants to talk to other lawmakers to decide on an asset limit.
Howe said he does not want to cut off aid to anyone who needs it.