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Public Statements

Progressive Caucus

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. DeLAURO. Thank you so much. It's an honor to join with you. I know where your heart, your head and your courage lie with regard to this issue. And we applaud you for your efforts with regard to the one caucus around this place that says that our goal and our mission is to make sure that people who are poor today, let us help them move out of that being poor. Let us help them move into the middle class, because in fact they do want to work, they do want to take care of their families. They're not just statistics. They are people to be upheld and respected and not to be vilified in so many ways as they are there. So I congratulate you and your efforts.

I'm proud to be here with you tonight and with my colleague, Congressman Ellison, and the Progressive Caucus for his comments and remarks. I see that we are also joined by our colleague, Mr. Johnson. I want to thank you for your efforts as well.

As you're talking about, what tonight is all about is highlighting severe immoral cuts that are made to anti-hunger and nutrition programs, particularly the food stamp program; And that is coming from the House of Representatives in the farm bill that passed out of committee.

Everybody knows millions of families are struggling in this economy. Across this country, nearly 15 percent of American households were food insecure in 2010. Nearly 50 million Americans--over 60 million children--are struggling with hunger right now. It is about children; it is about the disabled; it is about seniors. And this is a problem all across this land.

My State of Connecticut, in my district--Connecticut statistically is the richest State in the Nation because we have Fairfield County, and some parts of the State are known as the Gold Coast, with very affluent people. But we have such pockets of hunger that, in my district, one out of seven is food insecure.

I'm tired of the commentary on food insecurity. What that means--and my colleague knows this, we've talked about this--it is about being hungry. These folks, one out of seven doesn't know where their next meal is coming from.

In Mississippi, 24.5 percent suffer food hardship, nearly one in four people. West Virginia and Kentucky, that drops to just over 22 percent, one in five. In Ohio, nearly 20 percent. California, just over 19 percent.

The estimates of Americans at risk of going hungry here in this land of plenty are appalling. And at times such as this, our key Federal food security programs become all the more important.

This is especially true of food stamps, our country's most important effort to deal with hunger here at home and to ensure that American families can put food on the table for their kids. Right now, food stamps are helping over 47 million Americans--nearly half of them children--to meet their basic food needs. They make a tremendous difference for the health and the well-being of families, as our colleague, Mr. Ellison, pointed out with his examples.

Food stamps have been proven to improve low-income children's health, their development, reduced food insecurity, and have a continuing positive influence into adulthood.

You know, I listen to people that talk about waste, fraud, abuse. Food stamps always has one of the lowest error rates of any government program.

Go to the IRS, go to Defense, go to a crop insurance program, and you will find waste, fraud, and abuse.

Food stamps are good for the economy. Economists agree that food stamps have a powerful, positive impact on economic growth.

Last month, Bloomberg ran an article called, ``Best Stimulus Package May Be Food Stamps,'' because they get resources into the hands of families who are going to spend those dollars right away.

Most importantly, food stamps are the right thing to do. Ninety-nine percent of food stamp recipients have incomes below the poverty line. It is the job of good government to help vulnerable families get back on their feet. In the words of Harry Truman:

Nothing is more important in our national life than the welfare of our children, and proper nourishment comes first in attaining this welfare.

This is something that everyone in Washington used to agree on. In the past, there's been a strong tradition of bipartisanship on hunger and nutrition. From the left, leaders like George McGovern, and from the right, leaders like Bob Dole, came together. They made a difference for families who were in need.

Over the past 30 years, policies aimed at debt and deficit reduction to keep programs that help the most vulnerable among us to get by have always been protected on a bipartisan basis from deep cuts. But the farm bill coming out of the House right now seeks to destroy that tradition. In the name of deficit reduction, the bill slashes food stamps by more than $20 billion, hurting millions of Americans in our economy.

By eliminating categorical eligibility, their bill would force up to 2 million low-income Americans to go hungry. Their bill kicks 210,000 low-income children from the free school lunch program. It changes the relationship between SNAP and LIHEAP to take benefits from more low-income Americans--mostly seniors and working families with kids.

Let's be clear: this has nothing to do with deficit reduction and everything to do with the ideological priorities of a House majority. Ever since the Speaker took the gavel, this majority has tried to slash through the most crucial threads of our American social safety net.

Their Ryan budget cut over $130 billion from food stamps, mostly by converting it to an inadequate block grant. Last year, when the House Ag Committee had to identify $33 billion in 10-year savings from the programs of their jurisdiction, they singled out food stamps for all of the cuts--not direct payments, not crop insurance--just food stamps for the entire cut.

This is terrible policy. It will cause hunger and more health problems. These cuts are lopsided and are a dereliction of our responsibility to the American people, and of our moral responsibility.

Let me quote the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. They said last year:

We must form a ``circle of protection'' around programs that serve the poor and the vulnerable in our Nation and throughout the world.

And as Catholic leaders wrote last month:

Congress should support access to adequate and nutritious food for those in need and oppose attempts to weaken or restructure these programs that would result in reduced benefits to hungry people.

The House farm bill does the opposite. It jeopardizes the growth and development of our children, it jeopardizes seniors, and it puts at risk those disabled Americans.

In my district yesterday, I went to the Cornerstone Christian Church in Milford, Connecticut, and the representatives there were the woman who volunteers in their food bank program, Reverend Stackhouse of the Church of the Redeemer, Lucy Nolan of End Hunger Connecticut, Nancy Carrington, who heads up the Connecticut Food Bank, and a young woman whose name was Penny.

She had worked all of her adult life. She lost her job. She thought it was going to be easy to get another job and to be able to make her mortgage payments and all of the other financial obligations that she had. In the midst of this financial crisis, she and her husband separated, putting the burden of the family on her shoulders. She didn't know where to turn. She didn't know how she was going to put food on the table.

She went to the Connecticut food bank. They helped her to be able to access the food stamp program. That's where she is now--still looking for a job, still wanting to work. Her pride enables her to continue to look for that job. The courage of speaking before this group yesterday and the press, and to tell that story, took great courage--like so many others are telling that story, my colleagues tonight.

We do have an obligation. These are not statistics that we are talking about. These are flesh and blood Americans who are looking for a bridge. They don't want to be there forever. They want to be able to take care of themselves and their families.

It's a genius of the food stamp program to say in times of need: we're there and, yes, we rise in the participation. When it gets better economically, those numbers drop.

We have an obligation to those people--not to the statistics, but to those individuals who look to the Federal Government that says in a time of challenge: give me a little help, that's all I'm asking. I don't want everything. I know you don't have all those resources. Help me in this hour of need. That's what where our moral responsibility is.

Again, I say thank you to my colleagues for participating and for your steadfastness in dealing with this issue.

Ms. LEE of California. Let me thank the gentlelady for that very powerful--in many ways, very sad--statement. We shouldn't have to listen to you say this in the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world. These stories should not have to be told here, Congresswoman DeLauro.

Thank you also for reminding us--and I know that

you are a person of tremendous faith, and there are many in this body who are believers who have a faith and who care about the least of these. However, when we look at this $20 billion cut, you have to wonder where the people of faith are and how they understand this scripturally, I have to say. So thank you for raising this.

Ms. DeLAURO. If I can make one more point, because in the committee--and the people shall be nameless--there was a lot of quoting of scripture when people voted for and passed a $20 billion cut. I think it was one individual who said that in the scripture it says: If you don't work, then you don't eat.

I went back to find out what kinds of subsidies from farm programs that the individual had access to. Quite frankly, it's in the millions of dollars. I'm delighted that this individual can take care of family, but he's doing it with the largesse and the kindness, if you will, of the Federal Government. That doesn't seem to bother the individual at all. But providing food for a child or a senior or a disabled individual is a bridge too far. We need to stop that and we need to call attention to it, and the people of this Nation need to know what is happening in this institution.

Ms. LEE of California. Absolutely. Thank you for that.

I just want to also remind us tonight that--well, first, I'm on the Budget Committee also. We had a debate about poverty. Both sides had something to say. Thank goodness at least we had a debate. But when it came to looking at the Ryan budget and the cuts that were enacted or that would be enacted if the Ryan budget passes, I can't for the life of me understand how anyone on the other side who wants to reduce poverty--as they said they do--could support the Ryan budget, because it cuts every single government program which lifts people out of poverty into the middle class and will actually put more people into poverty if the Ryan budget cuts are sustained.

Ms. DeLAURO. I know my colleague Mr. Johnson is here to speak--and I think you understand this--but I think people need to know this. I want to take that crop insurance program for a moment--and I'm for crop insurance. I wish it covered people in my community, in my State.

My comment is, in the crop insurance program, 60 percent of those costs are picked up by the U.S. taxpayer. That doesn't include administrative costs. There is no income test, no wage threshold, no asset test, all of which apply to food stamp recipients. There are 26 individuals in this Nation who have received at a minimum $1 million in a premium subsidy, and they don't have to follow conservation programs. They don't have to do anything but accept that premium subsidy, and we can't find out who they are because they are statutorily protected. Do you want to look at a program from which we could get money to deal with the deficit? Go there, and don't hurt poor kids, seniors and the disabled. Those folks in that program who are getting at least $1 million are eating high on the hog. They are doing well.

So that's what we have to do, and that's what this country needs to know about. We are a good country. People have good values, and they will turn their backs on this effort as well.


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