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Leahy Slams House Leaders For Taking Farmers And Struggling Families Hostage In Farm Bill Standoff


Location: Washington, DC

As the end of the Congress approaches, we now only have a few short weeks to end the stalemate and pass a Farm Bill. For months, House leaders have blocked a vote on a bipartisan Farm Bill. Much is at stake -- from rural communities, to farmers who need the certainty that a Farm Bill extension would mean. I have said many times before on this floor, farming cannot be put on "hold." You can't put milking time on hold. You can't delay buying seed for Spring planting. Farmers already cope with innumerable variables in running their businesses. The last thing they need is for Congress to needlessly compound the uncertainty through weeks of delay and obstruction.

The Senate has passed a bipartisan bill that renews the charter for basic agriculture, nutrition and conservation programs, while saving taxpayers $23 billion dollars. This is a bill that, I believe, would pass in the House as well -- if House leaders would permit a vote. Passing it would end this corrosive stalemate, while contributing billions of dollars to deficit reduction. Unfortunately, it appears that nutrition programs that help millions of our most vulnerable fellow Americans are the latest excuse for preventing a House vote to get the Farm Bill done.

With so many Americans still struggling to put food on the table, it is regrettable and inexcusable that some House Republicans are turning to slashing essential nutrition help for struggling Americans as a means to prevent action on the Farm Bill. Ensuring that these programs can continue to serve Vermonters and all Americans in need is a key part of enacting a strong Farm Bill for this country. It is a reality recognized by the Senate-passed Farm Bill. Unfortunately, consideration of the Farm Bill is not the first time this Congress has been forced to debate legislation that will greatly reduce the ability of the neediest among us to put food on the table for their families. Bills and amendments have been proposed that would cut tens of billions of dollars from the food stamp program, eliminating nutrition assistance for millions of Americans and denying hundreds of thousands of American children school meals. I am proud that time and again during this Congress the Senate has defeated such proposals and I will continue to help fight back against such attacks.

The Senate-passed Farm Bill makes an investment in American agriculture that would benefit our producers, our dairy farmers, our rural communities, our Main Street businesses, taxpayers, and consumers. Now this bill is being held hostage by House Republicans who are, demanding draconian cuts in food assistance programs. They are preventing final action on a bill that touches every community and millions of our fellow citizens across the Nation. As this holiday season is upon us, opponents of nutrition programs that help the poor are insisting on making it drastically more difficult, or impossible, for these families and their children to simply eat.

Those advocating these drastic cuts could not choose a worse time. As winter approaches, Vermonters and others across the country will find the demands of paying for heating, electricity, and food a large strain on their family's budget. These Vermonters, like so many other Americans, struggle every day to make ends meet and are forced to make tough decisions about whether to pay for rent, heat, medications, or food.

While the economy continues to recover, many Americans still rely on basic assistance to get by each month. Thankfully, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly referred to as SNAP, has helped fill the gap, and offers the most comprehensive assistance available to the poorest Americans.

No one can deny the effects of hunger on Americans, especially children. Children who live in food insecure homes are at a greater risk of developmental delays, poor academic performance, nutrient deficiencies, obesity and depression. Yet participation in food assistance programs turns these statistics on their head. Federal nutrition programs have been shown to lessen the risk that a child will develop health problems, and they are associated with decreases as well in the incidence of child abuse. Children from families who receive SNAP have higher achievement in math and reading and have improved behavior, social interactions and diet quality than children who go without this nutrition help.

It is unfortunate that during this last campaign season, many candidates were intent on spreading misconceptions about a program that lifts millions of Americans above the poverty line each year. The contention that SNAP beneficiaries are largely out-of-work Americans is far from accurate. Two-thirds of SNAP beneficiaries are children, the disabled, or the elderly who cannot be expected to work. The remaining participants in the program are subject to rigorous work requirements in order to receive continuing benefits. And while SNAP offers crucial support to a family's grocery expenses, the benefits far from cover a family's food expenses. With a benefit average of about $1.25 per person, per meal, it is understandable that families typically fall short on benefits by the middle of the month.

Vermont has done a remarkable job at urging Vermonters to register for our SNAP program, called 3Squares, but the unfortunate reality is that thousands of Vermonters continue to go without food they could receive. I hear from Vermont families that participate in 3Squares about the importance of Federal food assistance. Parents have told me that they ignore their own hunger to ensure their kids are fed, and that they do not know how they would cope if benefits are cut further. Kathy, a mother from Barre, Vermont, says her child has come to her crying, wondering whether they will have enough money for food. Others have noted that expenses for necessities, such as heating and rent, are fixed costs, and when 3Squares benefits run out, skipping breakfast or lunch is the only way to scrape by.

Unfortunately, both the Senate and the committee-passed Farm Bill in the House include cuts to nutrition assistance. Nonetheless, the Senate-passed bill takes a more sensible approach. Of the $23 billion in deficit reduction included in our bill, $4.5 billion comes from nutrition programs, nearly four times less than House Agriculture Committee bill. I do not support the cuts in the Senate bill, and I supported an amendment during the Floor debate to restore this funding in SNAP, so that on average, families across the country would not lose $90 per month in benefits. But the cuts in the Senate bill represented a concession from the Senate's Chairwoman, and ultimately the Senate Farm Bill passed the Senate with a bipartisan vote, as it always has.

This concession is not enough for many House Republicans. The $16 billion reduction in nutrition programs they wish to see in a Farm Bill would devastate nutrition programs nationwide and would leave millions without any means to purchase food. These reductions would result in the elimination of food assistance for an estimated two to three million people, and 280,000 children would lose eligibility for free school meals. This is shameful, and we should work together in the best interests of all Americans to pass a Farm Bill that supports our farmers and those who are hungry.

The budget choices we make in Congress reflect who we are as a society, and the American people want budget decisions that are fair and sensible. Americans do not want their friends, neighbors, or family members struggling to feed themselves or their children. Proposed cuts to food assistance programs will mean more hungry families in America. I have spent nearly 38 years in the Senate fighting hunger, and I will continue to oppose efforts in the Farm Bill to roll even further back hunger assistance programs that help our neediest fellow Americans.

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