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Public Statements

End Hunger Now

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. McGOVERN. Mr. Speaker, I rise today for the 12th time this year to talk about the need to end hunger now.

I am honored to serve on the House Agriculture Committee, and last week the committee held a markup on H.R. 1947, the farm bill. I believe we need a farm bill that contains a smart, forward-thinking policy, a farm bill that ensures that farmers are able to make a living, a farm bill that benefits the American economy, a farm bill that ensures that the food grown in America makes it to the plates of every American, and a farm bill that isn't rife with fraud, waste, and abuse.

The good news, Mr. Speaker, is that a component of that smart, forward-thinking policy already exists. It's called SNAP. This program ensures that 47 million people out of the 50 million hungry in this country are able to put at least some food on their tables when they otherwise couldn't do so. This program ensures that the food grown on our farms makes it to every American's table, not just the wealthy few.

SNAP provides an economic catalyst because the SNAP benefit is spent in our local grocery stores and farmers' markets, generating jobs and revenue. Indeed, every SNAP dollar results in $1.72 in economic activity--an amazing return on our investment. And SNAP has one of the lowest error rates of any Federal program.

But H.R. 1947 would undermine all of this. It cuts $20.5 billion from the program. That cut means that 2 million people would be kicked off of SNAP entirely. It means that 210,000 kids would be kicked off the free school meal program. It means that 850,000 people will see their SNAP benefits cut by $90 a month, and this is on top of a $25 a month cut for a family of four that will already take effect in November no matter what happens to the farm bill.

You know, there was a time not so long ago when solving the problem of hunger in America was a bipartisan priority. Former Senators George McGovern and Bob Dole worked tirelessly in the 1970s to make America hunger-free. Their partnership brought us to the point where we nearly eradicated hunger altogether. And I will insert at the end of my remarks an op-ed from yesterday's New York Times highlighting this bipartisan work.

Mr. Speaker, the problem today is that it has become far too fashionable in this House of Representatives to beat up on the poor. In fact, there is now a bipartisan effort to cut hunger programs. I'm sad to say that even some Democrats are willing to support this farm bill, even with these terrible SNAP cuts. Instead of moving forward together, we are moving backward.

Mr. Speaker, the farm bill, with these SNAP cuts, is a bad piece of legislation. It's bad policy. It deserves to be defeated. Whatever good may be in this bill--from increased access to organic foods, to more humane treatment for animals, to increased job creation in agriculture--it is not an understatement to say that this bill will make hunger worse in America.

For the life of me, I do not understand why we should be forced to choose between cutting access to food and providing jobs for our ailing economy. We can and we should achieve the joint mission of ending hunger now and creating jobs together. They are very much connected and should not be pitted against each other. But that's exactly what the farm bill would do--to the tune of $20.5 billion.

We should end hunger now, not make hunger worse. We need a comprehensive effort to end hunger now. We need Presidential leadership. We need a White House Conference on Food and Nutrition. And we need a Congress determined to address hunger in America and bring it to an end, not make it worse.

Hunger in America is a political condition. Nothing demonstrates that more than this farm bill. We have enough food to end hunger now; we just don't have the political will to do so. This effort to cut SNAP--to make hunger worse--must not stand.

I hope my colleagues will join me in restoring these senseless cuts. Should that effort fail, I hope my colleagues will join me in defeating the farm bill when it is considered on the House floor. We can and we must do better.

[From The New York Times, May 20, 2013]

There Was a Time When Ending Hunger Was a National Goal for Republicans and Democrats

(By Dorothy Samuels)

``That hunger and malnutrition should persist in a land such as ours is embarrassing and intolerable.'' So declared Richard Nixon in May 1969 in his now widely forgotten ``Special Message to the Congress Recommending a Program to End Hunger in America.'' In that document, he summoned the country to a new level of generosity and concern and laid out a series of strong legislative steps and executive actions, including a significant expansion of the food-stamps program.

While campaigning for the White House in 1968, Mr. Nixon did not focus on the existence of a serious hunger problem. His conversion came as public calls to do something about hunger rose--driven, in part, by Senator Robert Kennedy's highly publicized trip to Mississippi in 1967 where he encountered nearly starving children and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s focus on hunger as part of the Poor People's Campaign.

During the '70s, another Republican leader, Senator Bob Dole of Kansas, forged a partnership with George McGovern, the South Dakota Democrat defeated by Mr. Nixon in 1972. They helped pass legislation to improve the accessibility and antifraud provisions of the food-stamps program. For example, it eliminated a requirement that recipients buy food-stamp coupons, a prohibitive burden for the lowest-income Americans.

That kind of dedicated bipartisan commitment to ending hunger was light-years ago in American politics--before President Ronald Reagan and, later, Speaker Newt Gingrich made attacking food stamps a prime Republican obsession, and certainly before moderate Republicans, a disappearing breed, lived in fear of making any move that might provoke a primary challenge from a Tea Party-supported candidate. The modern food-stamps program, built with Republican and Democratic support, succeeded in eliminating the most extreme pockets of hunger in parts of the country.

Today, the program remains an immensely important source of support for low-income families and children living below or near the poverty line. Still, some 50 million Americans live in households that cannot consistently afford enough food, even with the food-stamps program, now formally called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

Come November, temporary increases for food-stamp aid approved in the 2009 economic recovery act are scheduled to expire, which would result in a loss of about $25 in monthly food stamps for a family of four. If anything, Washington should be allocating more money to address tremendous unmet needs.

Yet, every Republican on the House Agriculture Committee voted to approve an omnibus farm bill containing a $20 billion cut in food stamps over the next decade in the program's $800 billion or so 10-year budget. While less devastating than turning the program into a capped block grant to the states, which the House Republicans have previously endorsed, the cut is nearly five times the reduction approved by the Democratic-controlled Senate Agriculture Committee, which already is too much.

The House bill's cuts would end food-stamp assistance for nearly two million people, with the pain falling mainly on low-income working families with kids and older Americans, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. And as many as 210,000 children would lose access to free school lunches and breakfasts because eligibility for those meals is tied to their family's receipt of food-stamp benefits.

``It is just not right,'' said Representative Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat (no relation to George McGovern) before his amendment to strike the cut was defeated. Not a single Republican voted to approve it.


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