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Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act of 2012

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. LUCAS. Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of this legislation.

It's no secret that we're facing a severe debt crisis right now. We have almost $16 trillion in debt piled up. And if we don't act quickly, we will be passing a crushing burden on to our children and grandchildren.

Reducing government spending, though, is never an easy task. We face difficult choices, but House Republicans have lived up to our responsibility to find ways to cut our costs so that we can once again live within our means.

The House Agriculture Committee has been asked to do its part by finding $33 billion in savings over 10 years. We did that by making credible, commonsense reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. These provisions reduce waste and abuse and close program loopholes.

SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, comprises almost 80 percent of the Agriculture Committee's mandatory spending. Over the past 10 years, the cost of SNAP has nearly tripled, increasing by 270 percent. The changes that we're proposing today cut only 4 percent over the next 10 years.

I would like to make it absolutely clear. None of these recommendations will prevent families that qualify for assistance under SNAP from receiving their benefits. We are working to better target the program and improve its integrity so that families in need can continue to receive nutritional assistance.

Opponents of this legislation would have you believe that we are decimating the nutritional safety net and that hungry children and seniors will be left to fend for themselves. That is a false and misleading scare tactic. It's important to remember that many of the very people opposing these cuts proposed and voted for similar measures during the last Congress when they were in control of this body. Not once, but twice my colleagues on the left voted to cut a temporary increase in SNAP benefits under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. One of those cuts was to pay for the bailout of a union. And now that House Republicans are advocating that same policy, those across the aisle are crying foul.

By ending the artificial increase in SNAP benefits, we can save $5.9 billion over 10 years, and we won't be turning that into more government spending. It will go towards deficit reduction.

This legislation also ends bonuses that have been awarded to States on the taxpayer dime. States are responsible for administering SNAP, and it's their duty to make sure the program is operating in the most efficient and effective fashion. We save nearly $500 million by ending bonuses that are given to States for merely doing their job. We also find savings by closing loopholes that allow States to game the system when administering SNAP.

First, we'll stop States from abusing the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, LIHEAP, to inflate SNAP benefits. States are exploiting the interaction between LIHEAP and SNAP by sending a token check to households which can trigger hundreds of dollars in increased SNAP benefits. LIHEAP is a valuable program for households in need of assistance with heating and energy costs. It shouldn't be abused in this fashion.

In New York City, a $1 LIHEAP check triggers an additional $131 in SNAP benefits per month for nearly 90,000 households. In Washington State, a $1 LIHEAP check triggers an additional $43 million in SNAP benefits. That's egregious, and taxpayers know it. These token checks not only undermine the integrity of both SNAP and LIHEAP, but they also cost taxpayers billions of dollars in overpayments. Closing this loophole saves $14.3 billion over 10 years and ensures that both LIHEAP and SNAP are targeted to the families who truly need the assistance.

Another loophole we've closed is called categorical eligibility, which allows any household that receives a benefit from certain low-income assistance programs to become automatically eligible for SNAP. Some of these benefits can be as simple as providing a household with a pamphlet or access to a 1 800 number hotline. When States implement categorical eligibility, these households do not need to meet SNAP or gross income tests. That's how lottery winners slip through the cracks and continue to receive nutrition assistance. When someone is categorically eligible for SNAP, States don't have to verify assets, like lottery winnings.

And it isn't just lottery winners that are unfairly collecting benefits either. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that one woman collecting $500 per month in SNAP benefits had $80,000 in savings, a paid-for home valued at about $300,000, and a Mercedes.

The SPEAKER pro tempore. The time of the gentleman has expired.

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Mr. LUCAS. So let me repeat what I said earlier: These provisions do not decimate the program and leave struggling families to fend for themselves. What they do is restore program integrity. They reserve taxpayer dollars for families that are in need of assistance.

Every one of these provisions represents common sense and good government in a time of fiscal restraint.

There's no denying that SNAP provides important support to many Americans.

That's why it's important that we ensure the integrity of the program. Those who qualify for SNAP under the law will continue to receive benefits.

By voting for this package, we're not only doing our part to reduce the debt, we're improving the implementation of this important program while continuing to meet the nutritional needs of our fellow Americans.

I urge my colleagues to put aside the rhetoric and vote for these reforms.

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Mr. LUCAS. I would say to the gentleman from Pennsylvania that, when we come with our comprehensive farm bill, things that have been identified by many people as a concern, like the direct payments, will not be there. We will address all spending in all portions of the farm bill. We will make reductions in every part of agricultural spending, as we do our part in helping address this huge, tremendous national deficit.

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