BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Ms. STABENOW. I rise to talk about the relentless assault on the poor and hungry in this country that is being waged right now in the House of Representatives and too often on the Senate floor.
The meltdown on Wall Street caused a recession in this country, as we know, that was worse than anything we have experienced since the Great Depression. Eight million people, eight million Americans lost their jobs. Trillions of dollars in the stock market were wiped out. With that money went the life savings of many middle-class families.
Many families lost their homes. Small businesses closed up shop. This was an economic disaster that hit communities across this country as hard as any natural disaster we have seen.
While Wall Street is doing well again these days, millions of families on Main Street are still waiting for their situation to improve. We are seeing new job creation, but millions of Americans are still out of work. In fact, when we look at the chart on employment rates, we see what happened in 2008 and 2009, the numbers of people who lost their jobs. While based on the population we are holding our own, we are just barely at this point keeping up with the population and beginning to grow again.
What the House Republicans are saying is get a good-paying job or your family will just have to go hungry. But there aren't enough good-paying jobs, as we all know. To add insult to injury,they are slashing job-training money, which makes absolutely no sense, job-training money that States get to help Americans find work.
Economists point also to the irresponsible sequestration cuts as a cause for this sluggish job growth.
In the Senate we have passed a budget that will replace the sequester with a balanced solution to reduce the debt and balance the budget, but a handful of Senators on the other side of the aisle are blocking us from even being able to send negotiators to the House to finalize the budget. We are now stuck with a policy that makes absolutely no sense, that economists say is slowing down our economy and costing us jobs because of political games, pure and simple, in Washington.
This is having a very serious effect on the wallets of Americans who continue to find it difficult to put food on the table for their families. This is very real. It is not a political game for American families all across the country and certainly in my great State of Michigan. Even those people who are able to find work are working for less. In fact, wages as a percent of the economy are at 30-year lows.
When we look back, what has happened is not only is job growth not coming back as fast as it should, we are seeing people who have been in the middle class struggling by their fingertips trying to hold on or, most of the time, much of the time, losing ground because we are seeing wages going down, down, and down, even for the jobs that are available. This is a situation that millions of Americans find themselves in today. They are struggling to find work. When they do find work, the salary isn't even close to what it was before the recession.
Many people have taken pay cuts to keep their jobs or they have had their pay and benefits frozen for 4 or 5 years. Families who only 5 or 10 years ago were doing fine are now in dire straits.
Now the same Republicans who refuse to fix the sequester, who refuse to work with us to get the economy moving again for millions of middle-class families, again are trying to take temporary food assistance away from the children and families who are out of work or who are working one, two or three part-time jobs trying to make ends meet.
Let me stress as we debate the question of hunger and food assistance in America, we know that many families receiving SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, are working. They are working.
About half of those families receiving food help are working. They are people with children and whose wages are falling behind so they are no longer able to feed their families.
For those who have lost their jobs, SNAP is a short-term lifeline to keep food on the table while they search for work. We know the average new SNAP recipient only receives help for 10 months or less. Let me repeat that. A person who is coming onto this program during this recession worked before they needed help. They are getting an average of 10 months' worth of help so their family doesn't starve while they are looking for work and trying to put the pieces back together. Then after that they are going back to work.
What we also know is men, women, families on supplemental nutrition assistance are using that money to feed their children. Nearly half of the people who are getting food assistance help in this country are children. We are looking now at nearly half being children, children who are going to bed hungry at night while their parents are doing the best they can to get back on their feet.
We see senior citizens who find themselves in a situation where their only income is Social Security. That little bit of food help makes a difference of whether they can go to the grocery store and put food in the cupboard or not.
The real faces of food assistance are veterans who went to war for this country, many of whom were injured and returned home only to find they couldn't get a job or their disabilities made it impossible to work. People with disabilities are the faces of food assistance. Instead of honoring these men and women for their service, House Republicans want to take away the little bit of help they get each month to buy food.
If we add all of this, 85 percent of the faces of food assistance, of SNAP, are children with their parents, people with disabilities, including our veterans, and senior citizens--85 percent. The bill being considered in the House of Representatives would kick millions of children and their families off food assistance.
This is how majority leader Eric Cantor and House Republicans will cut $40 billion in food assistance. That is what they will be voting on, probably tomorrow. They do it by cutting off individuals and families who need the assistance the most.
Under the Republican plan, which Eric Cantor says encourages people to get back to work, benefits for a jobless adult without children would be limited to 3 months every 3 years. They better eat a lot during those 3 months.
That means if you lose your job and you are unemployed for 6 months, half of the time you will be able to have help in order to be able to put food on your table. Once you find a new job, you had better make sure your company doesn't close and doesn't go overseas within the next 2 1/2 years or you will not be able to have any help to put food on the table as well.
It is important to note that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has said that 14 million people will stop receiving food assistance over the next 10 years the right way. As the economy improves, they will get back on their feet financially and be able to find a good-paying job.
We built into our farm bill reduced costs in SNAP because the economy is beginning to improve. But the House of Representatives, the House Republican majority leader's bill, eliminates families from food assistance the wrong way--by eliminating food help to those who most need it: 1.7 million poor, unemployed adults next year, whose average income is about $2,500 a year--$2,500 a year; those are the folks who would lose help with food--2.1 million low-income working families and seniors next year alone, 210,000 children who would receive cuts and would lose their school lunches under the House Republican plan, and other unemployed parents and their children--parents who want to work but can't find a job or a training program to join--will be eliminated from help.
The Republicans say it is about getting people back to work. But this bill cuts worker training and job placement for people who are trying to get back to work, who are mortified that, probably for the first time in their lives, they have needed help with food. They are people who have paid taxes their whole lives and who got caught up in this great recession and are trying to climb out but need a little help with one of the things I think we would all consider pretty basic--the ability to eat and provide food for their families.
People on SNAP want to work. They are like any American wanting to work, but there currently are not enough jobs, which is why we should be focusing on jobs and growing the economy. Right now we have three unemployed workers for every job opening. It is better. I can remember standing on the floor a few years ago saying the number was six unemployed workers for every job, and then five, and now it is three. But it is still three for every job opening.
Does the Republican plan do anything to help people find jobs or the job training skills they need to get a good-paying job so they can care for their families? No, absolutely not. In fact, the Republican plan would offer cash-strapped States a truly perverse incentive. I had to read this several times to see whether this was actually written down this way. They are allowing States to keep half of the Federal money that would be spent on food whenever they cut somebody off the program. So the incentive is to eliminate help for people so the State can keep half the money and use it for something else. That is in the House bill.
Let me be clear: We have seen occasions of fraud and abuse in the food assistance program, and that is why the Senate farm bill includes major reforms to crack down on misuse and to make sure only people who truly need help are getting help. We heard reports of people winning the lottery, two in my home State, but who are still getting SNAP benefits. That will not happen again under our bill. We have seen liquor stores accepting food stamps when they do not sell much food. We have reformed that to make sure that cannot happen again, as well as a number of other areas where we can bring more accountability and tighten up the program.
We want every dollar to go to the people I am talking about today--who work hard all their lives, find themselves in a bad situation and are trying to climb out but they need a little bit of help because their children are hungry, because they are hungry. Maybe they are a veteran or maybe they are a senior or maybe they are somebody with a disability who needs a little bit of help. So we have passed real reforms to crack down on abuses we have found, and we did it in a bipartisan way in the Senate. I am very proud of that.
What House Republicans are voting on is nothing more than an extremely divisive, extremely partisan political exercise that is, by the way, going nowhere, and it is jeopardizing the passage of a 5-year farm bill. We have never seen this kind of partisanship injected into agricultural policy in our country before. It is shocking what has happened in the last 2 years in the House of Representatives. And shame on the majority floor leader and his allies for doing it now.
Our farmers, our ranchers, our small towns and rural communities and our children and families do not deserve this. The 16 million people who work in this country because of agriculture do not deserve this. What is happening this week in the House of Representatives is not about reality, it is about some fiction they have made up--an idea if the stock market is doing well, if wealthy Members of Congress and others are doing well, then surely everyone in America must be doing well too. And anyone who isn't must be lazy or not trying hard enough.
The reality is most people in America are still struggling to get back on their feet from the recession. There still aren't enough jobs for every person who needs and wants one. The jobs that are there pay less than they did 5 years ago, and families getting food help are making about $500 a week. They do not have money in the stock market. They do not have investment income. In fact, the average SNAP family doesn't have more than $300 in assets--things they own. What they do have, though, because of our policy of supporting those families, is $4.53 a day to eat. That is right, $4.53 a day to eat--less than the cost of one specialty coffee at our favorite stores.
But some Members of the House of Representatives have decided that is too much, that $4.53 a day is too much for our disabled veterans, too much for our senior citizens living on Social Security, too much for our children, for families working multiple part-time jobs and trying to figure out how to get out of the hole that was created not by them but by others in the great recession.
We all want to spend less on food assistance, and the good news is, under the Senate farm bill we all voted on, we do spend less. The baseline for food assistance is going down. Why? Because the economy is improving. There is $11.5 billion in reduced spending built into our farm bill because people are finding jobs, and that is added to the $4 billion in fraud and misuse we have included.
Again, the Congressional Budget Office projects that 14 million people will leave the supplemental nutrition program as the economy improves because they will no longer need temporary help. Costs are going down the right way, because the economy is beginning to improve. And as it improves more aggressively, which is what we should be working on together, we will see those costs go down.
I should also add that SNAP recipients are already going to see an arbitrary cut, unfortunately, to their benefits on November 1 because of the expiration of the Recovery Act help that temporarily boosted assistance to families in need, which we did in 2009. So they are already going to see less available for food.
If we want to continue to cut spending the right way, we should be working together to invest in our economy, to support our businesses, large and small, to outinnovate the global competition, to get rid of the sequester and to help people get the training they need to find good-paying jobs.
The Republican approach is like saying: You know, we are so tired of spending money on wildfires--forest fires--so we will cut the budget for the fire service. That isn't going to work. The fires will rage on and they will only get worse. If we want fewer fires we have to find ways to prevent fires and contain the fires in order to reduce the cost.
The Republican approach is also like saying: We are tired of paying for the cost of drought, flooding, and other crop disasters so we will cut crop insurance. The government's cost of crop insurance went up over $5 billion--50 percent--last year because of droughts and flooding and so on. It went up 50 percent. And while we are seeing increases in crop insurance, it is projected that food assistance is actually going down $11.5 billion over the next 10 years.
Are the House Republicans proposing we eliminate help for farmers in a disaster or just low-income families--children, seniors, disabled veterans--when they have a disaster?
What is happening in the House right now is a complete reversal of 50 years of great American values. Today, in the United States of America, one in six people say they do not know where their next meal will come from--one in six Americans in the greatest, the wealthiest country in the world. We have a long history in this country of making sure that poverty and hunger are kept in check. In fact, Presidents on both sides have understood this. President Ronald Reagan said:
As long as there is one person in this country who is hungry, that's one person too many.
That is one person too many. I wish our House Republicans could hear that and understand what he was saying. What would he have to say about this effort now in the House of Representatives to blame the victims of poverty and unemployment, to blame the children, to blame the seniors, to blame the veterans, who only want enough food to be able to eat and, for those who are able, to work and to get back on their feet and get a job?
The House Republicans who are proposing these drastic cuts all have enough to eat. We in the Senate are not living on $4.53 a day for food. We have enough to eat. None of us wonder where our next meal is going to come from, like the one out of six Americans. None of us have to worry about whether our children will go to bed hungry tonight. None of us have to skip meals so our children don't have to.
We in America are better than the debate that is being waged in the House of Representatives. The good news for children, families, seniors, the disabled and veterans across America is that the House bill will never see the light of day in the Senate. It is time to stop the political games around hunger in America. It is time to work together and pass a 5-year farm and food bill, to grow the economy and reduce the need for food assistance the right way--by making sure every American has the ability to have a good-paying job so they can feed their families and achieve their part of the American dream.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT