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Hunger and the Ryan Budget

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. McGOVERN. I want to thank my colleague from Connecticut for her passion and for her leadership on this issue, and for reminding us all of a terrible truth, and that is, there is not a single community in the United States of America that is hunger-free; that there are millions of our fellow citizens, men, women and children of every age and every background you can imagine, who are hungry or who are food insecure. They don't have enough to eat, can't put a nutritious meal on the table for their families. They go without meals on a regular basis.

This is happening in the United States of America, the richest country on this planet; and every one of us, Democrats and Republicans alike, should be ashamed of that fact.

I tell people all the time that hunger is a political condition. We have the food. We have this incredible natural resource in this country that we're able to produce enough food to be able to feed our population. We have this incredible agriculture community, wonderful farmers from coast to coast who can grow our food. And yet millions of our citizens go without.

We have the food, we have the infrastructure, we know what to do. We have everything but the political will to eradicate hunger in America.

Now, look, we all agree that we have a problem with our debt, and we need to get our budget under control. But it's hard to believe that the first place the Republicans are looking to balance the budget are on the backs of the poor and the most vulnerable in this country, on the backs of people who are hungry, because tomorrow in the Agriculture Committee, following in line with the Ryan budget, the Republican leadership is going to ask that the Agriculture Committee cut $33 billion out of the SNAP program.

That's how they're going to balance the budget. First thing out of the box, going after the SNAP program, a program that has worked to keep millions of people not only out of hunger, but out of poverty.

I will insert an article into the Record that appeared in The New York Times talking about how the SNAP program has prevented millions of Americans from going into poverty.
[From the New York Times, Apr. 9, 2012]
Food Stamps Helped Reduce Poverty Rate, Study Finds

(By Sabrina Tavernise)
WASHINGTON.--A new study by the Agriculture Department has found that food stamps, one of the country's largest social safety net programs, reduced the poverty rate substantially during the recent recession. The food stamp program, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, reduced the poverty rate by nearly 8 percent in 2009, the most recent year included in the study, a significant impact for a social program whose effects often go unnoticed by policy makers.

The food stamp program is one of the largest antipoverty efforts in the country, serving more than 46 million people. But the extra income it provides is not counted in the government's formal poverty measure, an omission that makes it difficult for officials to see the effects of the policy and get an accurate figure for the number of people beneath the poverty threshold, which was about $22,000 for a family of four in 2009.

``SNAP plays a crucial, but often underappreciated, role in alleviating poverty,'' said Stacy Dean, an expert on the program with the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington-based research group that focuses on social programs and budget policy.

Enrollment in the food stamp program grew substantially during the recession and immediately after, rising by 45 percent from January of 2009 to January of this year, according to monthly figures on the U.S.D.A. Web site. The stimulus package pushed by President Obama and enacted by Congress significantly boosted funding for the program as a temporary relief for families who had fallen on hard times in the recession.

But the steady rise tapered off in January, when enrollment was down slightly from December, a change in direction that Ms. Dean said could signal that the recovery was having an effect even among poor families.

The program's effects have long been known among poverty researchers, and for Ms. Dean, the most interesting aspect of the report was the political context into which it was released.

In a year of elections and rising budget pressures, social programs like food stamps are coming under increased scrutiny from Republican legislators, who argue that they create a kind of entitlement society.

In an e-mail to supporters on Monday, Representative Allen B. West, a Florida Republican, called the increase in food stamp use a ``highly disturbing trend.'' He said that he had noticed a sign outside a gas station in his district over the weekend alerting customers that food stamps were accepted.

``This is not something we should be proud to promote,'' he said.

Kevin W. Concannon, the under secretary of agriculture for food, nutrition and consumer services, argued that since the changes to the welfare system in the 1990s, the food stamp program was one of the few remaining antipoverty programs that provided benefits with few conditions beyond income level and legal residence.

``The numbers of people on SNAP reflect the economic challenges people are facing across the country,'' Mr. Concannon said. ``Folks who have lost their jobs or are getting fewer hours. These people haven't been invented.''

The study, which examined nine years of data, tried to measure the program's effects on people whose incomes remained below the poverty threshold. The program lifted the average poor person's income up about six percent closer to the line over the length of the study, making poverty less severe. When the benefits were included in the income of families with children, the result was that children below the threshold moved about 11 percent closer to the line.

The program had a stronger effect on children because they are more likely to be poor and they make up about half of the program's participants.

``Even if SNAP doesn't have the effect of lifting someone out of poverty, it moves them further up,'' Mr. Concannon said.

Mr. Speaker, I also want to take on a myth that some of my Republican friends have been propagating that somehow the SNAP program is a wasteful program. I've heard over and over and over again that the amount we've spent on SNAP has risen over the last decade. It has, in part, because we've gone through a terrible economic crisis. More and more of our fellow citizens have fallen into poverty, have had to rely on SNAP.

CBO tells us that they expect what we spend on SNAP to go down as the economy gets better. And this is a social safety net. This is a program that provides protection for people when they hit difficult economic times. So that is why spending has increased. It has nothing to do with fraud or waste or abuse.

In fact, the GAO and the USDA have reported time and time again that SNAP is one of the most efficiently run programs in the Federal Government. Less than 3 percent error rate, and that includes people who get underpaid what they're entitled to.

I dare anybody here to find me a program at the Pentagon that has such a low error rate in terms of the utilization of taxpayer money.

Mr. Speaker, the bottom line is this: what we're talking about here is not just a program, is not just numbers. We're talking about people. We're talking about our neighbors. And we're talking about not just people who are unemployed. We're talking about working people. Millions of working families benefit from SNAP. They're out there working trying to make ends meet, but they don't earn enough. So because of that, we have this program called SNAP to help them get by and to put nutritious food on the table for their children.

Mr. Speaker, we can talk all we want about our budgetary problems. I want to close with this. You know, people say to me, well, we can't afford to spend any more on hunger programs because, you know, things are tough and the budget need to be tight.

But I would counter, Mr. Speaker, by saying we can't afford not to. There is a cost to hunger in America and that cost we all pay for: avoidable health care costs, lost productivity in the workplace. Children who go to school without enough to eat can't learn in school. That all adds up. That is a huge cost of billions and billions of dollars that we all have to pay. And that doesn't even count what we invest in programs like SNAP and WIC and other programs designed to provide nutrition and food for our fellow citizens.

So I would say to my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, the battle against hunger has historically been a bipartisan one. We've been able to come together, Republicans and Democrats, and be able to stand together to support programs that provide a circle of protection for our most vulnerable citizens.

And all of a sudden, you know, my Republican colleagues and some of the Presidential candidates are using hunger as a wedge issue, calling President Obama the Food Stamp President. Well, I'm proud that in this country we care about our fellow citizens, especially when they fall on hard times.

I urge my colleagues, especially on the Republican side, to stand up against your leadership and to stand with us and to stand with people who are in need. If government is not there for the neediest, then I'm not sure what good government is.

Mitt Romney doesn't need government. He's a multi-millionaire. Donald Trump doesn't need government. But there are millions of our fellow citizens who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in a difficult economic situation who rely on these programs.

It is beyond comprehension to me that tomorrow the Republicans want to cut $33 billion out of SNAP. With all the places they could look for savings, they're going after programs to help the most vulnerable. That is unacceptable and unconscionable, and I hope that the majority in this House stand up strongly against that.

I thank my colleague for yielding the time.


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