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Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Ms. JACKSON LEE. Mr. Speaker, I rise in opposition to this legislation and place a statement in the Record because those who get food stamps are not criminals. They are just hungry.

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak in opposition to H.R. 3102, the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act.

I am in opposition to this bill for four reasons: hunger is a real problem in the United States; the solution for reducing dependence on government subsidized food programs is full employment, this bill will hurt the poor and most vulnerable in our country and finally the bill is too draconian and pointedly anti-Urban.

Finding hungry people in the United States is not hard--they are in every community. The problem is so dire that--September has been declared hunger action month. People in the 18th Congressional District along with people in Congressional Districts around the nation are putting forth an extra effort to raise awareness that 1 in 6 Americans are going without enough food to sustain a healthy life.

Although the United States is considered to be the world's wealthiest nation 14.5 percent or almost 49 million Americans, which includes 15.9 million children face challenges to getting enough to eat.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture 50 million people experience hunger because they have limited access to resources. The type of resources could be adequate or reliable means of transportation to where food can be obtained, or money to buy food.

In the United States 17 million children live in food insecure households. Children with inadequate nutrition are affected by cognitive and behavior development problems. Eating enough to stay alive but not enough to meet nutrition requirements means the body will break down muscle and tissue.

The majority of SNAP recipients which is about 68 percent do not work--they are children, elderly, disabled or those caring for a disabled family member in their home or for a child less than 6 years of age.

Food insecurity is not limited to urban and suburban areas--over 2 million rural households experience food insecurity. The counties in the United States with the highest disproportionately high rates of food insecurity are rural not urban or suburban.

Children in food insecure homes--who do not consume healthy food on a regular basis are more likely to experience irritability, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating.

These children's ability to get ahead in life are demonstratively impacted by food insecurity.

Nutrition does not need reform--we know what foods are nutritious and how much nutritious food should be consumed by each man, woman and child regardless of age must consume each day to remain healthy and productive.

We should pass the American Jobs Act:

If this Congress was serious about work opportunities they would have passed the President's American Jobs Act. The irony is that if the American Jobs Act had become law it would have significantly reduced the numbers of persons in need of food assistance from the government.

Prior to the financial crisis and economic recession, 26.3 million individuals a month on average received SNAP benefits, getting an average of $96 per month in benefits. Over the course of the ``Great Recession'' SNAP spending has increased from $33.2 billion for fiscal year 2007 to $78.4 billion for fiscal year 2012.

The Congressional Budget Office says the weak economy as being the cause of the nearly 65 percent of the growth in spending on benefits between 2007 and 2011. The Congressional Budget Office said in its May 2013 baseline update estimate that SNAP participation would begin to decline as the economy continued to recover, falling to an average of $34.4 million per month.

Adding the words ``Work Opportunity'' is not about work but about how to prevent the working poor from accessing SNAP benefits.

SNAP benefits also help the working poor which includes those who earn 130% of the federal poverty guideline, but the majority of households have income well below the maximum: 83% of SNAP households have gross income at or below l00% of the poverty guideline this translates into incomes of $19,530 for a family of 3 in 2013. These households receive about 91% of all benefits.

Unemployment remains at 7.3 percent with about 11.3 million people unemployed. We know that we have 6 million long term unemployed people who have been searching for work 27 weeks or longer. In July, unemployment percentages for the following states were:

Texas 6.5 percent,

California 8.7 percent

Nevada 9.5 percent,

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North Carolina 8.9 percent,

South Carolina 8.1 percent,

Rhode Island 8.9 percent,

Tennessee 8.5 percent,

Michigan 8.8 percent,

Arizona 8.0 percent, and

Arkansas 7.4 percent.

In August 2013, there were still 2 million fewer jobs than when the ``Great Recession'' began in 2007. There are still 3 unemployed people for every new job created by the private sector. To compound the problem--60 percent of the jobs lost were mid-wage occupations--people who did not need Federal or State food assistance or housing assistance programs.

These types of mid-wage good paying jobs make up only 22 percent of the new jobs created during the recovery. Low-wage jobs represented 21 percent of the jobs lost at the start of the recession and now make up 58 percent of the new jobs of the recovery. The number of people who are in need of SNAP is greater because the recovery is not as strong as it should be nor reaching the people it should reach.

The bill's version of work opportunity threatens the working poor's opportunity to provide food for their families. Over the last decade the number of households that were working or had no income while receiving SNAP more than tripled, from 2 million in 2000 to about 6.4 million in 2011.

This bill will hurt the most vulnerable:

Having SNAP funds does not guarantee access to nutritious food, according to the Department of Agriculture food deserts make it difficult for urban, suburban and rural poor to find nutritious food. A food desert according to the Department of Agriculture is a ``low-access community,'' where at least 500 people and/or at least 33 percent of the census tract's population live more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store. The USDA defines a food desert for rural communities as a census tract where the distance to a grocery store is more than 10 miles.

Food deserts exist in rural and urban areas and are spreading as a result fewer farms as well as fewer places to access fresh fruits, vegetables, proteins, and other foods as well as a poor economy.

The result of food deserts are increases in malnutrition and other health disparities that impact minority and low income communities in rural and urban areas. Health disparities occur because of a lack of access to critical food groups that provide nutrients that support normal metabolic functions.

Poor metabolic function leads to malnutrition that causes breakdown in tissue. For example, a lack of protein in a diet leads to disease and decay of teeth and bones. Another example of health disparities in food deserts are the presence of fast food establishments instead of grocery stores. If someone only consumes energy dense foods like fast foods this will lead to clogged arteries, which is a precursor for arterial disease a leading cause of heart disease. A person eating a constant diet of fast foods are also vulnerable to higher risks of insulin resistance which results in diabetes.

In Harris County, Texas, 149 out of 920 households or 20 percent of residents do not have automobiles and live more than one-half mile from a grocery store.

Hunger is silent--most victims of hunger are ashamed and will not ask for help, they work to hide their situation from everyone. Hunger is persistent and impacts millions of people who struggle to find enough to eat. Food insecurity causes parents to skip meals so that their children can eat.

In Harris County, Texas, 149 out of 920 households or 20 percent of residents do not have automobiles and live more than one-half mile from a grocery store.

In 2009-2010 the Houston, Sugar Land and Baytown area had 27.6 percent of households with children experiencing food hardship. In households without children food hardship was experienced by 16.5. Houston, Sugar Land and Baytown rank 22 among the areas surveyed.

The bill is too draconian and pointedly anti-Urban:

The majority seeks to do everything imaginable to make it more difficult for people in this country to get access to affordable healthcare, a job that will pay a livable wage or meals that are nutritious are difficult to understand.

The bill would establish a nationwide ``pilot program'' under which states could impose new work requirements on SNAP recipients, including on parents of young children who are exempt under the current law. It would not be in the best interest of young children for their parents to leave them unattended and it would not be in the best interest of SNAP recipients to choose between rent and childcare.

The language of the bill authorizes states to conduct drug testing of SNAP applicants as a condition of receiving benefits. Since most of the benefits go to children, the elderly and disabled the question of drug testing is more a facade for a political philosophy than a real world problem with drug addiction and Federal and State food programs.

The bill is blatantly anti-urban in calling for a pilot program to reduce retailer fraud be conducted in a large urban area that administers its own SNAP program. Is there a belief that Mayberry exists in every rural area and therefore there could be no possible cases of SNAP fraud?

The bill requires that SNAP recipients receive at least $20 or more in aid from the state through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) before they could receive an increase in SNAP benefits. LIHEAP and SNAP are two different programs and they serve different purposes. LIHEAP helps when homes are not safe or are in need of repairs to make them more safe for human occupation. The problem with this formula is that the funds sent for LIHEAP are not nearly enough for the numbers of persons who need housing repair. The second problem is it would require people who have no need of housing repairs, but who may need additional food assistance to apply for the LIHEAP program, which is already underfunded in order to get what they really need--more food assistance.

This formula will guarantee that people in need of additional assistance under SNAP will never receive it.

The bill before us would prohibit a state from telling someone they know is hungry about SNAP food programs. The bill defines this type of communication as recruiting SNAP participants by advertising the SNAP program.

The bill eliminates the ability of states to waive work requirements for ``certain able-bodied'' SNAP recipients even when unemployment is high. In addition the bill would impose new work requirements on parents of young children.

The bill would restrict ``categorical eligibility'' this would impact people who qualify for other low-income aid.

The bill requires that SNAP benefits be used by beneficiaries within 60 days of being posted to an account. If the benefits are not used then they will be taken back. The reality is people make decisions about where and when to purchase food not based on our schedule but their own.

If they have the benefits then the benefits should be there when the opportunity to go to a store is available to them--which may be more than a 2 to 4 week period.

People who are poor are not criminals and we should stop trying to treat them as if they committed a crime. This bill is right out of the 47% playbook that was defeated last year during the Presidential Election and this bill needs to be defeated as well.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill would reduce net SNAP spending by 39 billion over 10 years and that 2.8 million people on average would lose their benefits while 850,000 would see benefits cut.

SNAP benefits help the disabled, which include men and women who have served our nation during times of war. According to news reports, nearly $53 million in food stamps had been cashed in by people eligible to shop in base commissaries, including disabled veterans.

The use of food stamps in commissaries increased 9 percent from 2012 to 2013, when $99 million in food stamps were used on bases. In addition, military commissaries sold about $31 million under the Women, Infants and Children program in 2012 and nearly $15 million by June of this year.

Food is not an option--it is a right that all people living in this nation must have to exist and to prosper. Next year if this bill becomes law the nearly $40 billion cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs also known as SNAP that is proposed by this bill 4 million Americans would fall thought our nation's food safety net.

As elected representatives we should see our nation's vital interest. At the core of our vital interest is a stable and thriving economy, a strong and healthy population that is able to contribute to the economic engine that fuels our economy.

I urge my colleagues to reject this bad bill and return the food programs to the farm bill.

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