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Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. DeLAURO. Let me just say to my colleague a few minutes ago who was up on this floor and talking against the food stamp program and against the McGovern amendment, I think it's important to note this is not my making this up, but this is an individual who has received almost $4.7 million in farm subsidies since 1995, including nearly $1.2 million in direct payments.

Now, I don't know whether that is a program that is means tested, that's asset tested, and that has a cap on it. No, this is free money for people who serve in this body. And these are the same folks who want to cut the food stamp program.

I rise in strong support of this amendment to replace those deep cuts to the food stamp program, which is our Nation's most important anti-hunger program. All across the country, cities, suburbs, rural communities, from the coast to the heartland, nearly 50 million Americans are struggling with hunger, and almost 20 million of them are our children. No part of the country is immune.

We should not destroy what has been a longstanding, bipartisan tradition to give crucial nutrition assistance. This is what this farm bill does. It cuts out the nutrition program for 2 million people, a million of whom are children.

And the research has shown us that the food stamp program is the most effective program pushing against the steep rise in poverty. Ninety-nine percent of recipients live under the poverty line. They're not getting $4.7 million in subsidies from the Federal Government.

By the way, when my colleagues on the other side of the aisle talk about waste, fraud and abuse, this is a program with a 3.8 percent error rate. I defy you to go to any other agency of the Federal Government and find that they have as low an error rate.

You want to talk about a program that really ought to be challenged in this farm bill?

Let's take a look at the crop insurance program. Look at the crop insurance program.

Support the McGovern amendment.

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Ms. DeLAURO. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentlelady.

I think that this is really the height of temerity here to make reference to people who are on a food stamp program and make a presumption that because they're on a food stamp program that they are using drugs and that they should be tested.

My gosh, I would just say that what about those people who are getting $4.7 million in direct payments from the Federal Government--as the gentleman from California does--and an additional $1.2 million from direct payments from the Federal Government? Maybe we ought to start drug testing all of the people who get some sort of a benefit from the Federal Government, and particularly those folks in this program, like the folks who are on crop insurance.

We can't find out the names of the 26 individuals on crop insurance that get at least $1 million--$1 million they get in a premium subsidy. And do you know what, my friends? There is no cap on the amount of money, there is no threshold on what they can receive, they have no eligibility criteria. They just get the money, and they don't have to even farm the land. Why don't we drug test those folks today and not demean people who have fallen on hard times?

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Ms. DeLAURO. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

This is unprecedented. This far-reaching amendment would quite literally hold millions of our country's poorest children, working families, seniors, and the disabled hostage to this Congress' ability to compromise and pass a farm bill. That is almost laughable. This Congress hasn't been able to come to an agreement or a compromise on anything.

If the farm bill is not reauthorized by September 30, food stamps for all families of four would be cut about $64 a month. Right now, more than 47 million Americans, including more than 19 million children, rely on food stamps to put food on the table. They don't rely on the program because they want to; they rely on the food stamp program because they have no other choice. They either do not make enough money to afford food for their family because of the paltry minimum wage or they are temporarily unemployed because of the historic economic recession this country has experienced.

This is a misguided amendment. It would impose deep cuts for each and every one of the households. The nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated that passing this amendment could result in a nearly 15 percent cut for households. That is $64 for a family of four when they only receive an average of less than $430 a month.

Already, 90 percent of SNAP benefits are redeemed by the third week of the month, around the same time that food banks see more and more men, women, and children enrolled in the program turning to the food bank because their benefits ran out.

All social safety net programs, including food stamps, have historically been protected from automatic across-the-board cuts. This was true when the law was enacted in 1985, 1987, 1990, 2010, and the Budget Control Act of 2011. SNAP was also protected in Simpson-Bowles, which recognizes the need not to reduce the deficit on the backs of the poor and the most vulnerable in this country.

Christian leaders continue to call on this body to form a circle of protection around programs that help the neediest Americans, including those on food stamps. That circle of protection should surround this amendment.

I urge my colleagues to heed that request and to oppose this amendment.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Ms. DeLAURO. I think it's really rather incredible that we, once again, in the prior amendment have singled out a group of people, many of whom today are people who were working but who lost their jobs through no fault of their own and who find themselves in a situation in which they have to access the food stamp program in order to feed their families.

On the other hand, those people whom I singled out earlier--the 26 individuals--will get at least $1 million in a premium subsidy for crop insurance, and they have no income threshold at all. These folks, if we can't get to a compromise, will continue to get what they're getting. They're eating well. I would bet they have more than three squares a day.

Let's think about who this amendment targets--76 percent of SNAP households, including child, senior or disabled individuals. The average household on SNAP has a gross monthly income of $744. The average SNAP allocation is already less than $1.50 per meal, and 55 percent of SNAP dollars go to households with incomes below half of the Federal poverty line. This targets the poorest. It asks them to pay a price for congressional farm bill politics.

Let's talk about the Members of Congress. If they can't get it to a compromise, let's make sure they don't get their salaries and that we do something to those who are responsible for not getting the job done. Don't take it out on the poorest people in this Nation. This is unprecedented. It is immoral. I urge my colleagues to oppose this amendment.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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Ms. DeLAURO. I rise in support of this amendment, strong support of this amendment, because it aims to reform a broken crop insurance program. This is a program where taxpayers foot an average of 60 percent of the premiums for beneficiaries, plus there's the reimbursement of the administrative and operating costs, 100 percent of those efforts.

These are for private companies that sell the plans, including multinational corporations, some of whom trace back to companies who are in tax havens. And essentially, what it does, it works to improve crop insurance, it limits taxpayer subsidized profits of companies that sell crop insurance.

It does not harm the ability of the companies to sell these policies in any way. It would ensure that taxpayers do not continue to subsidize these administrative and operating expenses.

It's a bipartisan amendment. It enjoys broad support from a number of groups across the political spectrum, as has been laid out. It caps the amount of crop insurance premium support individual producers receive.

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Ms. DeLAURO. I rise in support of this amendment, strong support of this amendment, because it aims to reform a broken crop insurance program. This is a program where taxpayers foot an average of 60 percent of the premiums for beneficiaries, plus there's the reimbursement of the administrative and operating costs, 100 percent of those efforts.

These are for private companies that sell the plans, including multinational corporations, some of whom trace back to companies who are in tax havens. And essentially, what it does, it works to improve crop insurance, it limits taxpayer subsidized profits of companies that sell crop insurance.

It does not harm the ability of the companies to sell these policies in any way. It would ensure that taxpayers do not continue to subsidize these administrative and operating expenses.

It's a bipartisan amendment. It enjoys broad support from a number of groups across the political spectrum, as has been laid out. It caps the amount of crop insurance premium support individual producers receive.

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Ms. DeLAURO. GAO said that the cap would affect just under 4 percent. Crop insurance is the only farm support program subsidized by taxpayers and not subject to a payment limitation. This would bring this in line with other farm programs, and it would shine a little long overdue sunlight on the crop insurance program.

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Ms. DeLAURO. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I think it's very interesting that the Food Safety Modernization Act was passed by the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction, as well as the FDA; and, quite frankly, it does not have any jurisdiction under this piece of legislation, and I'm disappointed that it made it through the Rules Committee.

However, in January 2011, the President signed a transformative food safety law that Congress had passed in a bipartisan manner to improve the health of our constituents.

The legislation was supported by a broad coalition of consumer, public health, and industry groups, groups including the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the National Restaurant Association.

When we crafted the final food safety bill, we struck a compromise, a compromise on the scope of the bill so that the vast majority of truly small farms and processors are excluded, including those that sell most of their food directly to the public through farmers markets and farm stands; in addition to which regional considerations were also taken into consideration.

The integrity of that compromise has been maintained in the proposals released by the FDA to date. I can speak to this compromise and the agreement we reached at the time because, in fact, I helped to craft and negotiate the final language.

The law also requires that the FDA take regional differences into account when crafting its proposed rules. Let us be clear: that legislation was needed. Foodborne illness remains a threat to the public health. According to the Centers for Disease Control, each year 48 million Americans become sick from the very food they eat; 128,000 are hospitalized; and 3,000 die. These figures are far too high and simply unacceptable, so we acted. We passed the first major improvement to the FDA's food safety laws in more than 70 years.

Under the guise of seeking a report, this amendment seeks to further slow down the implementation of the law, a law with the potential to improve the very health of our constituents by reducing their risk of becoming sick from food. Yet nowhere in the text of this amendment or in the intent of these reports do I see a mention of the public health or consumer safety.

All of the FDA's proposals to implement this critical law already go through the official rulemaking process, meaning that the agency must consider the costs and the benefit of the rules, and that every one of us and our constituents can weigh in and submit comments on the rules already. The amendment before us now simply intends to slow down the process of implementing the law.

Rather than working to obstruct and delay implementation, we should be working to encourage strong implementation. Let's look at what has happened since the bill was signed into law. In that short period of time, there have been almost 20 multi-State outbreaks positively linked to food products regulated by the FDA. One of those was an outbreak of listeria associated with cantaloupe, a product that had not previously been identified as associated with that dangerous pathogen. The same outbreak killed 33 Americans, the largest number of Americans lost to a single outbreak in a quarter of a century.

Right now there is a multi-State outbreak of hepatitis A that may have been caused by a contaminated product regulated by the FDA. More than 115 people in eight States have become ill, and more than 50 of them have required hospitalization.

It continues to be supported by the majority of Americans. A recent poll showed that more than 75 percent of Americans surveyed supported the food safety law, which is why so many respected organizations that work to improve the public health, including the Consumer Federation of America, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Pew Charitable Trusts, and Consumer Unions, oppose this amendment. I urge my colleagues to heed their advice and oppose this amendment.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Ms. DeLAURO. I would just say to my colleague that all of those arguments were debated and discussed during the time of the Food Safety Modernization Act. As I said, I worked very, very hard, along with members of the Energy and Commerce Committee, in which jurisdiction this actually resides. It does not reside in the jurisdiction of the farm bill.

The fact of the matter is that we've had industry support of the legislation. I have a white paper, a summary by the United Fresh Producers Association issued in January 2011, which talks about all of the flexibility that exists for small farmers.

The issue here is about public health and public safety. I recommended that we oppose this amendment.

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