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Public Statements

End Hunger Now

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. McGOVERN. Mr. Speaker, next Wednesday the House Agriculture Committee is expected to mark up the farm bill. The farm bill is an important bill for many reasons, but chief among them is the reauthorization of our Nation's antihunger safety net programs. The largest and arguably most important is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

As I continue to remind my colleagues through my series of End Hunger Now speeches, it is important to acknowledge that hunger is a real problem in America. Even as we slowly come out of this recession and as Americans struggle to get back on their feet, there are still nearly 50 million hungry people living in this country. Nearly 17 million are kids. The hungry, labeled by some as food insecure because they don't know where their next meal is coming from, aren't like those who starve in Third World countries. They don't have sunken eyes and swollen bellies, and that's primarily because of SNAP and other antihunger safety net programs.

SNAP has prevented millions of people from going without food when they desperately need it. The population served by SNAP is not the rich. They aren't living in mansions or driving expensive cars or eating in five-star restaurants. No, Mr. Speaker, they are primarily low-income families who are trying to make ends meet. They are trying to provide healthy food for their families while they try to keep a roof over their head and pay the bills to keep utilities running. And that's why the farm bill is so important.

Every 5 years, we have an opportunity to look at SNAP and other programs that make up the farm bill. We have an opportunity to look at what is and what isn't working. We have an opportunity to make the program run better, at least that's what we should be doing. Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, as we move to the markup of this farm bill, we haven't had a single hearing, not a single hearing this year, on the SNAP program.

But next week, the House Agriculture Committee will mark up a farm bill that we're told, if reports are to be trusted, that will cut $20 billion from SNAP. That's $20 billion that could go to feed hungry Americans. That's a $20 billion cut that will literally take food out of the mouths of hungry Americans. In short, it's a bill that will make hunger in America worse, not better.

SNAP is among the most effective and efficient, if not the most effective and efficient, federally run program. Error rates are at an all-time low. In fact, when it comes to error rates, more SNAP benefits are underpaid rather than overpaid. That means that a SNAP error will likely result in a beneficiary receiving a smaller benefit than they are eligible for rather than a higher benefit. Waste and abuse is almost negligible, and USDA continues to crack down on fraud. People who defraud SNAP, those who break the law, are being arrested and they're going to jail.

The program is working, Mr. Speaker, and I defy anyone to show me any other Federal program that is as effective and as efficient as SNAP. Yet some Republicans are hell-bent on cutting the program. I should say, obliterating the program, and I simply do not understand why. What do they have against poor people? Why do they think that it's okay to hold back a helping hand. SNAP isn't a get-rich scheme. People use SNAP to put food on their table during difficult times. The way to reduce the number of people on SNAP is by creating jobs, by helping to get this economy going again. The more people go back to work, the less people need to rely on SNAP.

But what some in this House are proposing is that we arbitrarily and indiscriminately cut the help that people need. A $20 billion cut will do real damage. It will be harder for some to get SNAP. For others, they will see their SNAP benefit cut, meaning they'll have to buy the same amount of food with less money. And we'll see, at a minimum, several hundred thousand poor kids lose their free school meals. Yes, Mr. Speaker, this bill will take food away from poor kids.

For the life of me, I cannot understand why anyone--I don't care what your political party is--would want to do this. Cutting SNAP is a bad policy. Cutting SNAP in the name of fiscal responsibility is not just a misnomer, it is a falsehood that must be debunked.

There are many other programs in the farm bill that have higher rates of fraud, waste, and abuse--programs like direct payments and crop insurance, just to name two. These programs must be reined in rather than going after programs that help poor people struggle to feed their families during difficult times.

Mr. Speaker, I continue to believe that we can end hunger now if we muster the political will to do so. But cutting SNAP, passing a farm bill that cuts $20 billion from this program will not end hunger now. It will make hunger worse. It is the wrong thing to do at the wrong time in our history.

I'd like to believe that my Republican colleagues on the Agriculture Committee would realize this before they embrace a bill that would have such a Draconian cut, that would have a $20 billion cut in SNAP.

And, Mr. Speaker, I'm urging my Democratic colleagues on the Agriculture Committee to join me in rejecting these cuts. And if these cuts prevail, then we should vote against this farm bill. I think it is simply wrong to send a bill to the House floor, or if it passes the House floor, over to the United States Senate that decimates this important program. It is just wrong.

And for some reason, it has become fashionable in this House to not worry about the poor and to not worry about the vulnerable. Every time we need to find a cut, you go after programs that benefit the most vulnerable. It is wrong. It is outrageous. It goes against everything we're supposed to be doing in this Congress.

Mr. Speaker, rejecting these cuts is the right thing to do, especially if we want to end hunger now.

Mr. Speaker, I would remind my colleagues that hunger is a political condition. Hunger is a political condition. We have the resources, we have the means, we have the infrastructure to end it; but we don't have the political will.

We have the political will when it comes to going to war. We have the political will when it comes to giving tax breaks to wealthy people. We have the political will when it comes to protecting special interest subsidies to Big Oil.

But when it comes to ending hunger, the political will is not here. It is not here. And what a shame, Mr. Speaker.

I would also remind my colleagues that there was a cost to hunger. When people say to me, oh, we can't afford to help these people; we can't afford to expand these programs because this is a tough budgetary time that we find ourselves in, I remind my colleagues that there is a cost here.

There's a cost in avoidable health care cost, for example. People who do not eat on a regular basis, children who do not eat on a regular basis, who are denied food, who are hungry, you know, their immune systems are compromised. They get common colds, and it ends up turning into something worse, and they end up going into emergency rooms and staying for several days. There's a cost to this.

Senior citizens who can't afford their food and their medicine, they take their medicine on an empty stomach, they end up getting sick. They go into the hospital, they stay for several days, sometimes weeks. There is a cost to that.

There's a cost to hunger in terms of lost productivity in the workplace. Workers aren't as productive.

And, oh, let me just remind my colleagues, Mr. Speaker, when people think that SNAP is only a program for those who are unemployed, millions and millions and millions of people on this program work for a living. They work, but they don't earn enough to not qualify for this benefit.

If you want to do something to help more people get off SNAP, increase the minimum wage, invest in this economy, get more people back to work. But there are millions of working people who rely on this program to feed their families. So there's a cost, Mr. Speaker.

There's also a cost in terms of kids going to school hungry who can't learn. I mean, if you're hungry, you can't focus.

If I had my way, Mr. Speaker, I would require universal school breakfast for everyone who goes to school in this country at the bell, because the bottom line is that meal, that nutrition is every bit as important to a young child, in terms of learning, as that textbook is because that textbook doesn't do a kid any good if he or she is hungry, if all they're worried about is where they're going to get their next meal. And there are too many kids, as I said, 17 million children in this country that are hungry.

Mr. Speaker, we are supposed to be a political body here that is dedicated to solving problems. That's what our job is supposed to be. We're supposed to try to help people and solve problems, not ignore them or make them worse.

There are millions of vulnerable people in this country who need our attention and who need our help. They don't want a handout; they want a hand up. They want to enter the job market; they want to enter into a secure economy. They're looking for some help to get them to the point they could survive long enough to be able to see this economy get back on its feet.

Hunger in America is a real problem. This is an issue. No one talks about it here, but it is an issue. You don't see the leadership of this House, the Republican leadership of this House, paying any attention to this. They never even mention the word hunger. They never mention the word poverty when they speak.

But this is a real problem. This is a real problem, and I would urge my colleagues who are about to embrace a $20 billion cut in SNAP to get out of Washington or, better yet, just leave the Capitol Grounds and go out and meet some people who are struggling on this benefit. Meet some people who don't have enough to eat, who end up going to food banks even when they get the SNAP benefits because it's not enough. This is not a get-rich scheme.

And here's the other thing that my colleagues need to understand. Even if we did nothing in the farm bill, even if we protected everything, as it is, I mean, and didn't make any cuts in the farm bill next week, guess what? The average benefit, the average food stamp benefit, the average SNAP benefit, is going to go down anyway because we have dipped into SNAP to pay for other programs. It has been our ATM machine to pay for a lot of other programs, and so the benefit already is going to go down for people. People are already going to feel it even if we were to do nothing.

But to pile on $20 billion worth of cuts--and my friends will say, oh, well, you know, it's this categorical eligibility, or it's this, you know, we don't like the way this State does it or that State does it----

Here's a point I want to make. If people were truly interested in making this program run better, then we would be doing hearing after hearing after hearing, not only here in Washington, but out in the field, listening to people who are beneficiaries, listening to the food banks, listening to the anti-hunger advocacy groups, listening to the mayors, listening to the Governors, listening to people; and we would figure out how to do this in a way that made sense.

And by the way, I think any savings we find in SNAP we ought to put back into programs to combat hunger and to promote nutrition, you know, not take this money and help pay for a subsidy to some big agri-business or continue to fund some cockamamie crop insurance scheme. We ought to put this, we ought to put any savings we find and any reforms back into these programs.

Let's do this right. But my friends who want to cut this program don't want to do it right. They're not interested in helping this work better. All they're interested in is taking this money so they don't have to take it away from the special interests that fund political campaigns around here. And I find that outrageous.

So, Mr. Speaker, I urge my colleagues, both Republicans and Democrats, don't turn your backs on the poor. Don't turn your backs on the hungry in this country.

As Members of the United States Congress, we should be ashamed, we should be ashamed that there are 50 million people in the United States of America that are hungry, that 17 million of them are children. It is outrageous.

We're the richest, most powerful country in the world. There shouldn't be any hunger here. There shouldn't be anybody who has to worry about whether or not they're going to be able to put good, nutritious food on the table.

So I urge my colleagues, Democrats, Republicans, please do not fall for this notion that cutting $20 billion won't make any difference to anybody, that we're just kind of tightening the program up. Don't fall for that line, because it's just not true. It's just not true.

$20 billion in cuts from this program will mean that people today, who today are getting food tomorrow will not. And, again, if people qualify for this program, their kids automatically qualify for the free breakfast or lunch program at school. You cut these families off this program, those kids will no longer be eligible for that.

How that serves our natural interest, how that helps anything in this country, how that even deals with our deficit, our debt problem is beyond me because we're creating a whole slew of new problems.

We are so much better than that. We are so much better than that.

Let me just close with this, Mr. Speaker. Some people have said to me, well, hunger has been around for a long time. There's nothing we can do about it. Those people are wrong, Mr. Speaker. They're wrong. In 1968, there was a documentary on television on ABC that documented for the entire Nation to see the hunger problem in America. And in the aftermath of that documentary, in a bipartisan way, people like Senator George McGovern of South Dakota, Senator Robert Dole of Kansas, Senator Jake Javits of New York and Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, in a bipartisan way came together and helped put together an effort to end hunger.

In the 1970s, in the mid- to late 1970s, we almost succeeded in ending hunger in this country. We almost succeeded. And then came along a Congress that undid everything, and today we have seen the results of the negligence of Congress and of various White Houses over the years, and that is 50 million Americans--50 million Americans--who are hungry.

Mr. Speaker, I believe that we can do better than that, and I believe that we are a much better country than that. I plead with my colleagues here, please don't do this. Please don't do this. The people we're talking about who benefit from this program don't have any big political PACs, and they don't have a lot of high-priced lobbyists here in Washington. I'm not even sure how many of them are going to vote in the next election. But they're our neighbors. They're our friends. They're part of our community. We're supposed to represent them. We're supposed to help people, not hurt people.

If this farm bill goes forward with a $20 billion cut in SNAP, we will be hurting people in this country. We will be hurting millions and millions of people in this country.

I hope we don't go down that path. I urge my colleagues, in a bipartisan way, to join with me. End hunger now. Reject these attempts at cutting SNAP by $20 billion, support a farm bill that supports not only our farmers, but supports good nutrition and supports an effort that will end hunger now.

I thank my colleagues for listening to me, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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