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Public Statements

Progressive Caucus

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. NORTON. I thank the gentlelady from California for her consistent, heartfelt, energetic leadership on this issue for many years. And I see the gentleman from Georgia is here. I am so pleased he brought down his stash for the week. I had to ask him, Did you really get those bananas? He budgeted so well that he was able to stay within the $31.50 for the week.

Now we've done this before, and I can tell you, it's not pleasant if you're really adhering to this budget. But we had an effect before. When Members joined together and took the challenge, we were able not only to keep the cuts from occurring, but to raise the level for those on food stamps.

I was interested to hear the gentleman from Massachusetts talk about the low error rate, something like 3 percent. I just sat through a committee hearing this morning, and the discussion was about how much waste and fraud reported in a 2011 report about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They reported that about 30 percent was attributed to waste and fraud. Here we have poor people in a program with the lowest error rate I've seen in a long time.

I want to thank all of the Members who visited at what I call our neighborhood Capitol Hill Safeway at 14th and D Streets, Southeast, where we had the help of employees who helped guide us toward the least expensive food.

What we're talking about here is the House outdoing the Senate. The Senate bill already cuts $4 billion. The House wants to up that five times. How much damage can we do and sit up straight and feel that we are worthy to be in the Congress of the United States?

We succeeded because of the stimulus in raising the per meal amount from $1.40 a day--isn't that an amazing number--to $4.50 a day. When I was going down the aisle, one of the clerks said to me, Don't you want to get some water? I said, God, go to the spigot, please. I hope people are not buying water on the food stamp challenge because you'll have to eat it. Bottled water is very expensive--and unnecessary.

We believe at least 20 million children will be affected, and 10 million of them are labeled in deep poverty. These people are going to be off the rolls altogether. The reason they are on food stamps at all is because in our wisdom, food stamps, SNAP, has become an entitlement. There are some on the other side who want to take that away from them. I don't know where poor people would be. TANF, for example, its rolls have not increased. So what people have at least been able to do is eat.

And let me tell you about eating. The calculation is that the monthly amount of food stamps will last you about 2 1/2 weeks. If you're eating anywhere near what you should be on $4.50 a day, it's going to last you, according to all the statistics, 2 1/2 weeks. What do you think people do the rest of the month on a month's worth of food stamps that lasts 2 1/2 weeks? They go to the churches or the food pantries. They get the rest of what they need from the pantries, which is why the charities' cupboards are bare. You go there, and even the food charities are begging for food because so many people are coming to the pantries because food stamps cannot sustain a family. These are the poorest people. So all we're trying to do is just try to raise the consciousness really right here in the House of Representatives.

If we got even where the Senate was, that would mean hundreds of thousands of people losing foods stamps that have no other sustenance.

What more can we do to people on food stamps?

It seems to me we have hit bottom, with a provision in the Senate bill that seeks to ban certain ex-convicts from receiving food stamps for life.

Now, wait a minute. I understand--they list certain kinds of violent crimes, and it's very easy to get everybody worked up about giving them any food. I mean, if this is what you want to do to them, why don't you just give them a life sentence and leave them in jail where they'll be fed three meals a day.

But this provision means that if you committed one of these crimes, and they do mean only murders, rapists and pedophiles, so these are not people for whom anybody will speak up. If you've committed one of those crimes, even if it was a single crime, even if it was decades ago, even if you've been doing well--but, of course, if you committed one of those crimes you're not doing well, perhaps, so you may need food stamps. Not only would you not be permitted food stamps, but the family allotment would be decreased by your portion.

What are we trying to do?

By the way, don't they say they have a lot of Christians on the other side of the aisle, Christian conservatives? Where are they? Where are they?

Aren't these the people that Jesus would have reached out to and said, let me feed you because nobody else will?

I just don't think that when you hit people when they're down as low as they can get, you ought to be proud of yourselves as a Congress.

We even find, among low-income workers, if I could make just one point, most of them try to keep from getting on food stamps. And you have some States going out and saying, Instead of going hungry, these are low-income people who work on the pantries--I think you're entitled to SNAP.

We had people in the streets here in the District of Columbia, just last month, who work in these iconic buildings, Federal buildings, for retail, and some of these are great big retailers, like fast food who pay them the minimum wage with no benefits. Guess who pays?

Those who, in fact, have some knowledge, supplement their low incomes with food stamps. And guess where they get their health care? You and me, the taxpayers.

Why are we allowing people to pay people so little that they depend upon the taxpayers to make up the rest?

So my good friend from California, I say to you, thank you for taking your usual leadership here and again, particularly your leadership on the SNAP challenge.

Don't feel sorry for us. We're going to have plenty to eat before and after. It doesn't begin, I think, until the 13th, for a week. We ask only that you think deeply about those who we will represent on this SNAP challenge.

I yield, and thank the gentlelady from California.


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