Mr. McGOVERN. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to talk about the problem of hunger in America. We are the richest, most prosperous Nation in the world. Yet the sad fact is that in 2013 more than 50 million people in this country are considered food insecure by the United States Department of Agriculture. Food insecurity, Mr. Speaker, is a technical term for the hungry. That's right, there are more than 50 million hungry people in this country. We cannot and we should not stand for this. It is time that we end hunger now.
Certainly, our fragile economy has a lot to do with the high levels of hunger. Millions of people either lost their jobs or saw their wages fall. Food and energy prices went up. For many middle- and low-income families, everyday costs like rent, utilities, and food became more difficult. And in many cases, families were forced to choose between things like food and electricity.
But even before the recession started, tens of millions of Americans went hungry at some point during the year. That, too, is unconscionable. And when we turn this economy around, and our economy will rebound, we need to make sure that people do not fall through the cracks again.
We need to end hunger now. We may not be able to wipe out all disease. We probably can't eliminate all war. But we can end hunger now if we make the commitment to do so. We have the resources. We know what it takes. We just have to muster the will to end hunger once and for all. Hunger is a political condition.
It's important to point out that even though over 50 million people were food insecure, the vast majority had a safety net that prevented them from actually starving. That safety net is called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Formerly known as food stamps, SNAP is a program that provides low-income families with food that they otherwise could not afford to buy.
Last year, over 47 million families relied on SNAP to feed their families. SNAP is literally a lifeline for these 47 million people who struggle to make ends meet. Now, I don't deny that this is a big number, but it's a big number because it's a big problem.
Mr. Speaker, America's hunger problem would be dramatically worse without SNAP. Just imagine what this country would look like if we didn't have the safety net that SNAP provides for low-income families in this country.
Our churches, our synagogues and mosques do their best to help feed families who need help, but they cannot do it on their own. There are nonprofits and food banks that do as much as they can, but they cannot do it on their own. The private sector simply cannot meet the need.
And with the economy not expected to fully recover for some time, we know that there will continue to be those who struggle to afford food. These are the people we need to worry about, the people we must help, the people who need their neighbors to lend a helping hand.
SNAP, Mr. Speaker, is a helping hand. Relying on SNAP is no walk in the park. It is not champagne and caviar. No, Mr. Speaker, the truth is that the average SNAP benefit is less than $1.50 per meal. That doesn't buy a whole lot of healthy, nutritious food.
And there's a common misconception--some would say it's a purposeful mischaracterization--that SNAP promotes a culture of dependency. Some detractors even talk about SNAP like it's a golden ticket, that getting on SNAP is like winning the lottery; everything's taken care of forever.
Give me a break. People don't want a handout. They don't want to rely on government assistance. No, Mr. Speaker, people want to provide for themselves and their families. That's why half of all new SNAP participants receive benefits for 10 months or less, and 74 percent actually left the program entirely within 2 years.
Now, I don't know why there is such a vitriolic opposition to this important program by some here in Congress, nor do I understand why some of my colleagues believe we should balance the budget by cutting programs that help the most vulnerable.
The truth is that without SNAP people would go hungry because they are poor. Eighty-three percent of families on SNAP make less than $24,000 a year for a family of four. Less than $24,000 a year. I challenge anyone in this body to live off that income for a year.
Our budgetary challenges are clear. We need to tackle the debt and the deficit, but we need to do so smartly and with reason. There is a reason not a single bipartisan deficit proposal, from Simpson-Bowles to sequester, cuts SNAP. That's because SNAP is the most effective and efficient anti-hunger program we have. That's because cutting SNAP will literally take the food away from families in this country. That's because the authors of these plans, from liberal Democrats to conservative Republicans, all recognize the importance of this program.
Yet there are those who would want to undermine this and other programs that provide a circle of protection for those in need. It is time for a nationwide effort to end the scourge of hunger.
I call on the President of the United States to coordinate a White House conference on food and nutrition so we can devise a plan. I call on the leaders of Congress to support such an initiative. We need to do more. End hunger now. End hunger now. End hunger now.
Mr. Speaker, we can do this. We must do this.