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Hearing of the House Agriculture Committee - SNAP Cuts


Location: Washington, DC

Mr. Chairman, I oppose the measure before us today for one simple reason -- it will make hunger in America worse. There are nearly 49 million hungry Americans in this country; 17 million are children. For those who don't know or remember, we once had people living in this country who had sunken eyes and swollen bellies because they weren't getting enough food. Thankfully and I'm proud to say, we have an anti-hunger safety-net that prevents us from returning to those awful days. Food Stamps, now called SNAP, school meals and other programs are literally a lifeline.

Yes, funding for SNAP has increased over the past decade. It increased during President Bush's two terms and it has increased during President Obama's term. It increased for two reasons -- first because of program improvements and second because of need. Prior to the last Farm Bill, the average SNAP benefit was one dollar per person per day. Imagine having to feed a family on that meager amount. President Bush increased programmatic funding for SNAP so people could buy healthier foods and to keep up with the rising cost of food. The Great Recession resulted in more people falling into poverty, in more people needing help.

I would remind my colleagues that most of those receiving SNAP benefits work. They qualify for SNAP not because they want a handout but because their wages are so low that they cannot afford to put food on their tables. This notion that SNAP promotes a culture of dependency, that SNAP is a golden ticket to prosperity, is just wrong. Working families are trying to earn more. No one wakes up in the morning dreaming to be on SNAP, but these are tough economic times. Some people have no choice. But we know that SNAP enrollment -- and spending on SNAP -- will go down as the economy improves, as families see their incomes rise and no longer need SNAP to feed their families. Don't take my word for it, this is directly from the Congressional Budget Office.

A common and unfortunate misconception about SNAP is that it is rife with fraud, waste and abuse. Many have decried SNAP as a handout that can be sold or traded for alcohol and other items that shouldn't be purchased with taxpayer funds. It cannot. SNAP is both effective and efficient. In fact, the error rate for SNAP is not only at an all-time low; it has among the lowest -- if not the lowest -- error rate of any federal program. SNAP's payment error rate was 3.81% in 2010, the most recent data available. Diving deeper into this error rate, we see that only 3% of all SNAP benefits represented overpayments. Compare this, for example, to the most recent IRS data that shows that the tax noncompliance rate was 16.9% in 2006, representing a $385 billion loss. SNAP is not only an effective program, it is also an efficient one.

I know we have a budget deficit that we need to address. We need to do so in a balanced and comprehensive way. But doing it by cutting SNAP -- like the Majority is proposing to do today -- is just wrong. There are 18.5 million kids on SNAP; 22.2 million people who receive SNAP are female; and there are 3.1 million seniors on SNAP. Cutting $33 billion means that more than 22 million households will see a cut in their benefit. This means 22 million families will have less food tomorrow than they do today. In fact, 2 million people would be cut from SNAP altogether. And 280,000 kids would lose access to free school meals.

Let me repeat that -- women, children and the elderly will have less food on their plates if this Committee passes $33 billion in cuts to SNAP. There are other programs in this Committee's jurisdiction that we ought to look at first for deficit reduction, including direct payments and crop insurance.

Why demonize and attack poor people like this? Why go after the working families who are struggling to make ends meet?

None of us serving on this Committee is struggling to feed our families. But imagine if you had to look your son or daughter in the eye and tell them that you can't afford dinner tonight; that there just isn't enough money to pay for rent, gas, food and other bills for the rest of the month, so they'll just have to go without. For families like this -- and they are real and there are tens of millions of them -- SNAP is a lifeline.

I say all the time that hunger is a political condition. We have the food and the means to end hunger, but we don't have the political will to end it. But to have the political will to actually make hunger WORSE, as this Committee is about to do, is unconscionable.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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