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End Hunger Now

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Ms. DeLAURO. I want to thank my colleague, Congressman McGovern.

And I want to say a thank you to you. You have been steadfast and courageous on this issue. I know the strong and personal relationship that you had with Senator McGovern, who, with every fiber of his being, was devoted to making sure that both in the United States domestically and overseas that people, and particularly children, had enough to eat. And I think it was so special that he partnered with Bob Dole of Kansas.

When you take a look at the federally commissioned report that you spoke about, when you take a look at the people who were involved, the strength of that commission on hunger in America was its bipartisanship. Since this effort has begun, Members of both sides of the aisle have focused on this as a substantial problem. Therefore, as a Nation, we have to come together to try to address it.

Unfortunately today, in the environment, in the atmosphere, in this body, in this institution, in the Congress, there seems to be not much view that this is a problem and one that we have the opportunity, the capacity, and the ability to do something about. What we lack, as you've said so often in the past, is the will, the political will to do something.

We are highlighting tonight the severe, the immoral cuts made to antihunger and nutrition programs, particularly the food stamp program in the House FARRM Bill. Again, as you pointed out, millions of families are struggling in this economy.

We've had the worst recession since the Great Depression, and people are trying to survive. We're looking at an unemployment rate that is 7.5 percent. We are looking at incomes which are not increasing, but wages that are decreasing. Why we would pick this moment really to throw more people into poverty?

You can take a look at all kinds of statistics, and I'll quote some in a few minutes, that talk about the food stamp program and how it has kept people from falling into poverty and how it has kept kids from going hungry. And we would choose this moment to increase that poverty number and to say to children and disabled and seniors, I'm sorry, you're on your own. That's what this is about. It is immoral.

You know, you talked about the 50 million Americans--almost 17 million children--suffer with hunger right now. It's a problem across the country.

You talk about my district, the Third District of Connecticut. Connecticut, statistically, is the richest State in the Nation. We have a very affluent portion of the State, which is known as Fairfield County, sometimes referred to as the ``Gold Coast.'' Lots of people on Wall Street come to live in Fairfield County in Connecticut. Yet, in my congressional district, the Third District, one out of seven go to bed hungry at night. They don't know where their next meal is coming from.

One out of seven individuals nationwide take part in the food stamp program. People today who never thought they would have to rely on food stamps are having to do so because they lost their job, they lost their income, and they're looking for a way to feed their families.

I was at the Christian Cornerstone Church in Milford, Connecticut, just a few days ago. A young woman, Penny Davis, she was working, taking care of herself, taking care of her family. She lost her job. She didn't think much about it. She would get another job. She hasn't been able to get another job in this economy. In the meantime, in the interim, she's become separated from her husband. She is now responsible for herself and her family.

She didn't know what she was going to do. She called on the Christian Cornerstone Church. She called on the food bank to help her, to see what she could do. She spoke eloquently about wanting to work and not being able to find a job. So today she has accessed a program that she never thought she would have to use--the food stamp program.

Why can't we be there to help people bridge that gap? Because the genius of this program is that, in difficult times, the numbers of participants go up, but when the economy gets better, those numbers come down. And the numbers are coming down. So why, at this moment, would we jeopardize these folks' livelihoods, their well-being, and their ability to eat and to feed their families?

We've got a wonderful, wonderful phrase these days that we use about people being ``food insecure.'' Plain and simple--and you know this, Congressman McGovern--this is people being hungry. They're hungry. It makes you feel good to talk about food insecurity, but it's hunger. I talked about my district, but let's take a look.

Mississippi, 24.5 percent suffer food hardship. They're hungry. Nearly one in four people. West Virginia and Kentucky, that dropped to just over 22 percent, one in five. In Ohio, nearly 20 percent. California, just over 19 percent. The estimates of Americans at risk of going hungry here in the land of plenty are appalling, and we have a moral responsibility to do something about this.

Our key Federal food security programs become all the more important at this time, which, as you know and I know and so many others know, it is true of the food stamp program. It is the country's most important effort to deal with hunger here at home, and it ensures that American families can put food on the table--47 million Americans, half are kids.

This is about helping low-income children's health and development, reducing hunger in America, and continuing to have an influence so that those youngsters can have positive influences and opportunity into adulthood.

You stated it. Food stamps has one of the lowest error rates of any government program at 3.8 percent. I was upstairs at that Rules Committee meeting as well. You know, I loved the discussion about program integrity. Many, many times in the Agriculture Appropriations Committee, where I did serve as chairman for a while--I'm still a member of the committee, probably 16, 18 years on that committee--program integrity. Let's cut back on the waste, the fraud, and the abuse. The only programs that get debated in those efforts are WIC, food stamps, other nutrition programs. No one bothers to take a look at the defense bill. No one bothers to take a look within the FARRM Bill of other instances of waste, fraud, and abuse.

We believe in program integrity for every program in the Federal Government, not just one or two or pick out the programs that you don't like and focus in on them.

I sat on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture for the last 16 or 17 years. I chaired that Appropriations Subcommittee. I was part of a conference committee on the farm bill in 2008. In fact, as you've heard me say in the past, appropriators don't usually get onto a conference committee. But the then-speaker, Nancy Pelosi, appointed me there, particularly for the nutrition issues. Some of the conferees were a little nervous. As I've said, they thought I was some sort of invasive species in this context.

We worked hard on that farm bill. You know it because you worked hard on it. We said it was a safety net, and it is a safety net. The farm bill is a safety net, but it is a safety net for American farmers and for American families. We need to have that safety net. With then-Speaker Pelosi's strong support and leadership we passed a farm bill. We supported nutrition and antihunger programs. We made investments in the programs that targeted specialty crops and organic production. We were there and we voted for that bill.

I am for a farm bill, but that's not the case this time around. It's a different set of circumstances and a different environment, which is why, like you, I cannot support this farm bill.

The changes that you talk about, in addition to the $20 billion in cuts to beneficiaries, you talk about the eligibility program and the tool that States use to streamline the administration of the program; went back years in working this system out. They would unravel all of that.

Then they would like to talk about the food stamp program and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. They are two separate issues--categorical eligibility and the tie with food stamps and the LIHEAP program, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. They'll say that if you get LIHEAP, then you're automatically on the food stamp program. That's not true. You have to qualify. I want to get to a couple of points that talk about qualifying and what people are forced to qualify and those who are not forced to qualify for the benefits that they receive in this farm bill.

It's important I think to note that we were able to get funding for the food stamp program in the Economic Recovery Program. You worked hard at that, I worked hard at that, the chair of the Appropriations Committee at that time, Mr. Obey, fought for those dollars. That has come to an end, the Economic Recovery Program.

Come the beginning of the next fiscal year every single recipient of food stamps will see it is $37--we got confirmation--$37 a month in a cut. What's happening in this farm bill will only add on.

It is important to note that our colleagues will say: Well, we have a deficit and we are going to use this money and we are going to pay down the deficit. Very interesting to know. In the past 30 years, every major deficit reduction package signed into law on a bipartisan basis was negotiated on the principle of not increasing poverty or inequality in deficit reduction.

Simpson-Bowles, the latest iteration of a deficit reduction package which so many people said went too far in changing the aspects of the social safety net, did not cut the food stamp program to achieve its deficit reduction. We need to follow this bipartisan effort in the same way that we did in these instances on deficit reduction and follow that bipartisan road, the same way we did in the recognition of the problem and the willingness to do something about it.

I've got two other points. You may hear from some that the direct payments--they'll say, well, we're cutting direct payments in the farm bill, and that the bill also makes very real reforms to the crop support programs. The bill finally ended direct payments, saving about $47 billion over 10 years. The commodity title of the bill only says that they're saving $18.6 billion. Why? Why the differential?

Because the rest of those savings are being plowed back into the commodity support programs. It creates a brand new program, which is called a ``price loss program,'' to protect these commodities if prices change. In essence, that safety net is working for farmers. I don't begrudge that. If you want to provide a safety net for farmers, fine.

But where's the safety net, where's the safety net for the benefits of the food stamp program? They're not there. The food stamp beneficiaries have nowhere else to go, as you pointed out, nowhere else to go in the farm bill to be made whole. Those who were receiving direct payments, they're going to be held harmless, if you will, through crop insurance and a new program, a shallow loss protection program that protects them if the commodity prices begin to fluctuate.

Where is the protection for the food stamp beneficiaries? It's not there. The only people who are going to lose benefits are the most vulnerable in our society today. It's wrong and, again, it's immoral.

The bill, as I said, expands the crop insurance program. I think it is important for people to understand that crop insurance--again, safety net, useful, good concept, very good, I wish it applied to our part of the country as it does to other parts of the country--but I don't know that the American taxpayers know this about the crop insurance program: taxpayers, U.S. taxpayers, foot the bill for over 60 percent of the premiums for beneficiaries, plus U.S. taxpayers pick up the tab on administrative and operating costs for the private companies that sell the plan, including multinational corporations, some of whom trace back to companies in tax havens. Switzerland, Australia, Ireland, Bermuda, that's where these companies have their headquarters, so they're making out like bandits. We pick up the tab, they don't pay their fair share of taxes in the United States. It really is quite incredible.

You and I talked about, Congressman McGovern, that $4.50--there's an income threshold, there's a cap on the amount of money they can receive on the assets that they hold. This program on crop insurance where 26 individuals received at least $1 million in a subsidy, at least $1 million, they're protected statutorily and we can't find out who they are. We don't know who they are. They have no income test, no cap, no income threshold, no asset test that they go through. They just get the money--they get the money. Do you know what? They're eating and they're eating more, more than three squares a day I bet, but not our kids, not our kids.

Our kids are going to bed hungry, and this program, by the way, does not even require the minimum conservation practices that other farm programs have on the books. It is pretty extraordinary when you think about a family of four when you have to qualify for this program for eligibility. It is at less than 130 percent of poverty, which means that a family of four has to live on $2,200 a month. As for our colleagues in this institution who are taking the food stamp challenge and doing it for a week--some may do it less, and some may do it more--do you know what? They're not doing it every single day with their kids.

There are serious problems with this FARRM bill. There really are very, very serious problems, and they need to be addressed. It should never have come out of the committee with $20 billion in cuts--never. It shouldn't have happened. I might also add that the President, as my colleague knows, has issued a veto threat primarily because of the food stamp cuts.

There are just a couple of quotes that I think are important.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said last year:

We must form a circle of protection around programs that serve the poor and the vulnerable in our Nation and throughout the world.

Catholic leaders last month wrote:

Congress should support access to adequate and nutritious food for those in need and oppose attempts to weaken or restructure these programs that would result in reduced benefits to hungry people.

We received a letter today asking us and asking Representatives--my God, there must be 80 or 90 organizations, probably over 100 organizations, that are saying don't do this, including the bulk of the medical profession. We've got Bread for the World, Children's HealthWatch, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, First Focus, Network, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association, Share Our Strength, and the list goes on.

Harry Truman said:

Nothing is more important in our national life than the welfare of our children, and proper nourishment comes first in attaining this welfare.

I will close with the piece that was put out today by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

New research shows that the food stamp program is the most effective program pushing against the steep rise in extreme poverty. One reason the SNAP program is so effective in fighting extreme poverty is that it focuses its benefits on many of the poorest households. Roughly 91 percent of monthly SNAP benefits go to households below the poverty line, and 55 percent go to households below half the poverty line. That's about $9,800 for a family of three. One in five SNAP households lives on a cash income of less than $2 per person a day.

Earlier in the article, it reads that the World Bank defines poverty in developing nations as households with children who live on $2 or less per person per day.

This is the United States of America. This is not a debate about process. It is not a debate about deficit reduction. It's not about politics. This is a debate about our values and our priorities in this great Nation. Let's go back to the days of George McGovern and Bob Dole and of those who came forward to say, There are those in this country who are starving. There are those who are without food.

We sit in the most deliberative body in the world. We can do something about it. Let's do something about it.

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Ms. DeLAURO. You were talking about the effect. It's about growth and development. There is wonderful material which we sent out to our colleagues from Dr. Deborah Frank, who talks about what happens to children. It isn't just concentrating, but it is their ability to grow, to develop, to be physically well. And the cost of dealing with what happens to the health issues only adds to our health care costs. I'm of the view that if you can't deal with humanity, let's deal with the economics of this. The studies are so clear about what happens with the absence of food, particularly with children.

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Ms. DeLAURO. I would just say this to the gentleman. The program has worked very hard, as you know, over the years to decrease that error rate in this program. I don't see the same concentration and the same effort in other programs.

And I mentioned here the crop insurance program. There's an article in the paper today that talks about the program is rife with fraud. Why aren't people interested in looking at that effort and the billions of dollars that we are losing every year? For the life of me, I don't understand it. People who view themselves as fiscal hawks, that we have to watch every dime and every dollar, they are only focused on nutrition programs and antihunger programs.

I think you may have alluded to this earlier, Congressman McGovern. I think so many times that those who would cut these programs and do it in such a savage way just don't have much respect for the people who find themselves in a position to have to participate in the food stamp program. They think they're dogging it. They think they don't want to work, and they think they're looking for charity. It is such a misconception and a lack of understanding of the difficult economic times that people find themselves in today.

Sometimes we ought to walk in people's shoes and understand the lives that they're leading and what they're trying to do, like those of us here who believe we work hard and care and et cetera. People work hard. They care about their families. They want to make sure their kids are eating. Quite frankly, when it comes to feeding your kids, you'll do whatever you have to do in order to make that happen.

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Ms. DeLAURO. In Branford, Connecticut, a woman with three boys, 18, 14, and 12, said that they eat one meal a day. In Hamden, Connecticut, there's a woman who says that she has just enough food to feed her children, but she has to say ``no'' if they want to invite someone over. She said sometimes she feeds the boys a little bit more because they're hungrier than the girls. We've heard about this internationally where the girls get short shrift when it comes to both education and food. My God, it's happening here. It is happening here.

We have the obligation--and I know you take it seriously. Our colleagues need to have that sense of moral responsibility to turn this around and do something that's better, do the right thing. Say ``no'' to $20 billion in cuts to the food stamp program.

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Ms. DeLAURO. The most disingenuous thing is there are a number of people in this body who talk about this issue and themselves are getting subsidies and they have commodities or whatever it is. That's been information that's been in the paper. They will deny food stamps to families who have no wherewithal, but they're taking in sometimes, in some cases, several million dollars in subsidies that are coming from the Federal Government. Then it's okay.

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