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Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act -- Motion to Proceed--Resumed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mrs. GILLIBRAND. I want to begin by taking this opportunity to thank the chairwoman and ranking member of the Agriculture Committee for their very strong efforts in getting this bill to the floor today. Their steady hand of leadership has made vast improvements for America's agricultural community and our economy as a whole. I know the tireless effort of our chairwoman and her staff undoubtedly leave America's farm policy in a stronger position than when she found it, and I know she has worked with a forward-looking vision for a thriving agricultural economy and rural community.

I also thank the chairwoman and the ranking member for working with me and all the members of our committee throughout the process that got us here today. Because of this strong work, I am urging my colleagues to vote for cloture on the motion to proceed to this bill.

When I first came to the Senate 3 years ago, I became the first member from my State of New York to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee in almost four decades. It is a responsibility I not only honor but I take incredibly seriously. For those 3 years I traveled all across our great State. I met with our farmers in their communities, listened to their concerns, and I understand their needs and priorities.

New York is not home to the corporate megafarms. We are home to small dairy farms, specialty crops, orchards, and vineyards. As we have been shaping and debating this farm bill, those are the farms, the small businesses I have been fighting for.

I am very grateful this bill will help our specialty crop growers by providing them with a dedicated funding stream as well as a better way to protect against disasters. I am also very proud of the good work with broadband investments to make sure our rural communities have access to the Internet. We also worked hard on trying to guarantee more transparency and accountability on how we price milk in this country.

But we cannot forget this bill is much more than a number of esoteric figures. What this farm bill should be about is how we protect and create a growing economy for small businesses, agricultural businesses, the middle class, and those families who are desperately trying to get there.

The farm bill is about the health of the agriculture industry. It is about the health of our families with nutritious food that is actually within reach of the children who need it.

As a mother, I am very concerned this current farm bill cuts $4.5 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP--better known as food stamps--over the next 10 years. I am incredibly disappointed, and even troubled, that my Republican colleagues are seeking to cut food stamps even more from those cuts.

Under this bill families in New York who are already struggling will lose $90 a month of food that goes on their tables. Think of food for a family for a long month. It is basically the last week that a family will not have enough food to feed their children. Now, $90 a month may not seem like a lot of money to some people, but I can say for those parents who are trying to protect their children and feed them good, wholesome, nutritious foods, it means everything in the world.

I don't know for any parents who are watching today whether they personally ever heard their child say: Mommy, I am still hungry. Well, imagine not being able to help your own child or future child. Imagine that your child says this every single day. That is what we are faced with here.

I have heard stories from New Yorkers who never dreamed they would need food stamps in their lifetime, who never imagined they would have no choice but to apply for this kind of Federal assistance. I heard from one single mom in Queens. She had a job in a supermarket, but she still struggled to make ends meet. She broke down in tears one day when her son came home from school with his school lunch in his hand and said: Mommy, I brought this home for us for dinner, and I asked my friend for his sandwich.

Another woman in Brooklyn, incredibly well educated, went to a prestigious university, but lost her job. She said:

I never thought I would be getting food stamps. But suddenly I was jobless and did not know where my next meal would come from. Food stamps played a big role during make-or-break moments in my life. They are not a handout. I worked all my life, paid my taxes and food stamps helped me get back on my feet again.

As a mother, as a lawmaker, watching a child go hungry is something I will not stand for. In this day and age, in a country as rich as America, it is unacceptable and should not be tolerated and should certainly not be advocated. I know not every State in this country has as many people as we have in New York. We have 20 million people in our great State. So with these cuts, it is going to affect 300,000 families. Imagine 300,000 families in your State or any State going hungry at night. These kinds of cuts hurt children and families. They hurt seniors who are homebound and don't know where their next meal is going to come from.

We are asking these 300,000 families to take a disproportionate amount of the burden. They were not the cause of the financial collapse. They were not the cause of this terrible economy, but we are asking them to bear the burden.

We know food stamps are actually a very effective investment. For every dollar we put into the Food Stamp Program, we get $1.71 of spending back into the economy. World famous economist Mark Zandi said:

The fastest way to infuse money into the economy is through expanding the SNAP/food stamp program.

This money pays the salary of grocery clerks and truckers who bring food to a store from the farm. The USDA estimates that 16 cents of every one of these food stamp dollars goes right back to our farmers. Despite widespread myths and inaccuracies, there is so little fraud in SNAP. It is less than 1 percent. That is a penny on a dollar.

I take our Nation's debt and deficit as seriously as anyone else in this Chamber. I applaud the chairwoman and the ranking member for being able to curb spending, but families who are living in poverty, who are just trying to figure out how to keep the lights on and put food on the

table did not spend this Nation into debt, and we should not be trying to balance the budget on their backs. Subsidies for large corporations that don't need it--including companies based in Bermuda, Australia, Switzerland--is not the right priority for America. We should be helping the most needy among us, our children, our seniors, and our families at risk.

So today I am introducing an amendment to restore the $4.5 billion in cuts because it is the right thing to do. It is the right thing to do for our families, our seniors, and our kids. It is the right thing to do for our economy. It invests $500 million over 10 years in a fresh fruits and vegetables snack program, which connects our kids to our farmers. It gives the authority to the Secretary of Agriculture to make additional purchases as part of the Emergency Food Assistance Program. It is useful when we have an all-time high rate of hunger and unemployment that puts unbelievable demands on these emergency feeding organizations.

To pay for these investments in our children's health and the health of the economy, my amendment makes a modest reduction in government subsidies to some of the most highly profitable companies. My amendment lowers the subsidies to companies from billions per year to hundreds of millions per year. Anyone who argues that these companies will struggle from this shift needs to meet a family who is dependent on food stamps to feed their children.

As I said earlier, this farm bill, like all legislation, is about our priorities. It is a reflection of our values. So I am asking my colleagues, let's agree children deserve healthy meals so they can live healthy lives and learn and grow and reach their God-given potential. Let's agree it is a worthwhile investment in our future to make sure children do not go hungry in this country.

I yield back my time, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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