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Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013 - Extension of Remarks

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

The House in Committee of the Whole House on the state of the Union had under consideration the bill (H.R. 1947) to provide for the reform and continuation of agricultural and other programs of the Department of Agriculture through fiscal year 2018, and for other purposes:

Ms. JACKSON LEE. Madam Chair, I rise to speak in support of Jackson Lee Amendment #94, which will be in the en bloc for H.R. 1947, the ``Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013.'' My thanks to Agriculture Committee Chair Frank D. Lucas and Ranking Member Collin C. Peterson for including the Jackson Lee Amendment in the en block.

I appreciate the work of Rules Committee Chair and Rules Committee members Congressman McGovern for managing the debate on amendments to H.R. 1947.

I offered amendments to H.R. 1947 for deliberation by the Rules Committee for approval for consideration by the Full House. Only one of my Amendments was made in order and will be included in the en bloc for the bill.

Jackson Lee #94 will be included in the en block and is a sense of Congress that the Federal Government should increase business opportunities for small businesses, black farmers, women and minority businesses.

Small farm businesses, black farmers, women and minority agriculture related businesses could benefit from partnerships with federal office location in receiving support for farmers markets. This would assist with eliminating food deserts, which are urban neighborhoods and rural towns without easy access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. These communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores.

Other Amendments, I request that the Rules Committee favorably consider included Amendment #1, the McGovern Amendment, which was joined by over 80 members of the House. This important amendment would have restored $20.5 billion in cuts in SNAP funding by offsetting the Farm Risk Management Election Program and the Supplemental Coverage Option.

Jackson Lee Amendments not included in the Rule for the bill include:
Jackson Lee Amendment #182 was a sense of Congress that the Federal Government should increase financial support provided to urban community gardens and victory gardens to heighten awareness of nutrition.

The knowledge shared with urban dwellers can have a long term benefit to the health of our nation by increasing awareness regarding the link between what we each and health. This would also be a means of expanding the diet options for persons who live in areas where the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables can be prohibitive.

Jackson Lee #183 is a sense of the Congress regarding funding for nutrition program for disabled and older Americans. Accessible and affordable nutrition is especially important when dietary needs change or must accommodate life's changes. Older Americans and persons with disabilities often must live with restricted diets.

Jackson Lee Amendment #184 was a sense of the Congress that encourages food items being provided pursuant to the Federal school breakfast and school lunch program should be selected so as to reduce the incidence of juvenile obesity and to maximize nutritional value.

This amendment passed the House by a substantial margin in the 110th Congress by a recorded vote of 422 to 3. The inclusion of this amendment in the Rule for 1947 would affirm Congressional commitment to fight juvenile obesity and to maximize nutritional value. The amendment should have been made in order considering the epidemic of juvenile and adult obesity.

Finally, I sought support by the Rules Committee of an Amendment offered by Congresspersons Kildee, Fudge, Peters, Tim Ryan and Jackson Lee Amendment #53.

This amendment was not included in the final Rule for the bill. This amendment would have brought healthy food to those with limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables through a public-private partnership. It would increase funding for SNAP incentive programs for fresh fruits and vegetables by $5 million per year, which is offset by decreasing the adjusted gross income limit for certain Title and Title II programs.

Food is not an option--it is a right that all people living in this nation must have to exist and to prosper. The $20.5 billion cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program also known as SNAP would remove 2 million Americans from this important food assistance program, and 210,000 children would lose access to free or reduced priced school meals.

The course of our nation's history led to changes in our economy first from agricultural, to industrial and now technological. These economic changes impacted the availability and affordability of food. Today our nation is still one of the wealthiest in the world, but we now have food deserts. A food desert is a place where access to food may not be available and certainly access to health sustaining food is not available.

The US Department of Agriculture defines a food desert as a ``low-access community,'' where at least 500 people and/or at least 33 percent of the census tract's population live more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store. The USDA defines a food desert for rural communities as a census tract where the distance to a grocery store is more than 10 miles.

Food deserts exist in rural and urban areas and are spreading as a result fewer farms as well as fewer places to access fresh fruits, vegetables, proteins, and other foods as well as a poor economy.

The result of food deserts are increases in malnutrition and other health disparities that impact minority and low income communities in rural and urban areas. Health disparities occur because of a lack of access to critical food groups that provide nutrients that support normal metabolic functions.

Poor metabolic function leads to malnutrition that causes breakdown in tissue. For example, a lack of protein in a diet leads to disease and decay of teeth and bones. Another example of health disparities in food deserts are the presence of fast food establishments instead of grocery stores. If someone only consumes energy dense foods like fast foods this will lead to clogged arteries, which is a precursor for arterial disease a leading cause of heart disease. A person eating a constant diet of fast foods are also vulnerable to higher risks of insulin resistance which results in diabetes.

In Harris County, Texas, 149 out of 920 households or 20 percent of residents do not have automobiles and live more than one-half mile from a grocery store.

At the beginning of the third millennium of this nation's existence we should know better. Denying a higher quality of life that would result from better access to healthier food choices is shortsighted--it is also economically unsound and threatens our national security.

Social stability is threatened when people's basic needs are not met--food, clean drinking water and breathable air or the least of the requirements for life. Denying access to sufficient amounts of the right kinds of food means people will become less productive, more prone to disease and will not be able to function as contributing members of a society.

For one in six Americans hunger is real and far too many people assume that the problem of hunger is isolated. One in six men, women or children you see every day may not know where their next meal is coming from or may have missed one or two meals yesterday.

Hunger is silent--most victims of hunger are ashamed and will not ask for help, they work to hide their situation from everyone. Hunger is persistent and impacts millions of people who struggle to find enough to eat. Food insecurity causes parents to skip meals so that their children can eat.
In Harris County, Texas, 149 out of 920 households or 20 percent of residents do not have automobiles and live more than one-half mile from a grocery store.

For one in six Americans hunger is real and far too many people assume that the problem of hunger is isolated. One in six men, women or children you see every day may not know where their next meal is coming from or may have missed one or two meals yesterday.

In 2009-2010 the Houston, Sugar Land and Baytown area had 27.6 percent of households with children experiencing food hardship. In households without children food hardship was experienced by 16.5. Houston, Sugar Land and Baytown rank 22 among the areas surveyed.

In 2011, according to Feeding America: 46.2 million people were in poverty, 9.5 million families were in poverty, 26.5 million of people ages 18-64 were in poverty. 16.1 million children under the age of 18 were in poverty. 3.6 million (9.0 percent) seniors 65 and older were in poverty.

In the State of Texas: 34% of children live in poverty in Texas. 21% of adults (19-64) live in poverty in Texas. 17% of elderly live in poverty in Texas.

In my city of Houston Texas the U.S. census reports that over the last 12 months 442,881 incomes were below the poverty level.

In 2011: 50.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households, 33.5 million adults and 16.7 million children. Households with children reported food insecurity at a significantly higher rate than those without children, 20.6 percent compared to 12.2 percent.

Eighteen percent of households in the state of Texas from 2009 through 2011 ranked second in the highest rate of food insecurity--only the state of Mississippi exceed the ratio of households struggling with hunger.
In the 18th Congressional District an estimated 151,741 families lived in poverty.

There are charitable organizations that many of us contribute to that provide food assistance to people in need, but their resources would not be able to fill the gap created by a $20.5 billion dollar cut to Federal food assistance programs.

Food banks and pantry's fill an important role by helping the working poor, disabled and the poor gain access to food assistance when government subsidized food assistance or budgets fall short of basic needs. Food pantries also help when an unforeseen circumstance occurs and more food is needed for a family to make it until payday or government assistance arrives. However, food pantries cannot carry the full burden of a communities' need for food on their own.

During these difficult economic times, people who once gave to food pantries may now seek donations from them. Millions of low income persons and families receive food assistance through SNAP. This program represents the nation's largest program that combats domestic hunger.

For more than 40 years, SNAP has offered nutrition assistance to millions of low income individuals and families. Today, the SNAP program serves over 46 million people each month. SNAP Statistics

Households with children receive about 75 percent of all food stamp benefits.

23 percent of households include a disabled person and 18 percent of households include an elderly person.

The FSP increases household food spending, and the increase is greater than what would occur with an equal benefit in cash.

Every $5 in new food stamp benefits generates almost twice as much ($9.20) in total community spending.

The economics of SNAP food support programs benefit everyone by preventing new food deserts from developing. The impact of SNAP funds coming into local and neighborhood grocery stores is more profitable supermarkets. SNAP funds going into local food economies also make the cost of food for everyone less expensive and assure a variety and abundance of food selections found in grocery stores.

SNAP is the largest program in the American domestic hunger safety net. The Food and Nutrition Service programs supported by SNAP work with State agencies, nutrition educators, and neighborhood as well as faith-based organizations to assist those eligible for nutrition assistance. Food and Nutrition Service programs also work with State partners and the retail community to improve program administration and work to ensure the program's integrity.

Yes, more can be done to assure that food distribution from the fields to the tables of Americans in most need can be improved. To begin the process of improving our nations ability to be more efficient and effective in meeting the food needs of citizens must begin with understanding the problem and acting on facts. I strongly support hearings on the subject and encourage all oversight committees to consider taking up the matter during this Congress.

However, we cannot ignore the safety process in place to prevent abuse or misuse of the program. The Federal SNAP law provides two basic pathways for financial eligibility to the program: (1) meeting federal eligibility requirements, or (2) being automatically or ``categorically'' eligible for SNAP based on being eligible for or receiving benefits from other specified low-income assistance programs. Categorical eligibility eliminated the requirement that households who already met financial eligibility rules in one specified low-income program go through another financial eligibility determination in SNAP.

However, since the 1996 welfare reform law, states have been able to expand categorical eligibility beyond its traditional bounds. That law created TANF to replace the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, which was a traditional cash assistance program. TANF is a broad-purpose block grant that finances a wide range of social and human services.

TANF gives states flexibility in meeting its goals, resulting in a wide variation of benefits and services offered among the states. SNAP allows states to convey categorical eligibility based on receipt of a TANF ``benefit,'' not just TANF cash welfare. This provides states with the ability to convey categorical eligibility based on a wide range of benefits and services. TANF benefits other than cash assistance typically are available to a broader range of households and at higher levels of income than are TANF cash assistance benefits.

Congress cannot afford to forget that by the year 2050, the world population is expected to be 9 billion persons. We cannot build our nation's food security on an uncertain future. Domestic food production and access to healthy nutritious food is essential to our nation's long term national security.

Until we see the final farm bill, including the amendment adopted by the Full House, I cannot offer my support for the legislation as it is written.

The bill is too shortsighted about the realities of hunger in our nation--the fact that it proposes to cut $20.5 billion from the SNAP program is of great concern. We should work to create certainty for farmers who run high risk businesses that are vulnerable to weather changes, insects or blight.
We should be equally concerned about providing long term food security for all of our nation's citizens, which include rural, suburban and urban dwellers.

My colleagues on both sides of the isle should have supported the McGovern Amendment to prevent the $20.5 billion in cuts to the SNAP program. Food is not an option--and people who need help from their government should not be treated like they committed a crime.

My support for this bill will be greatly influenced by the decisions made this week in the House and the willingness of members of good will to work to fix what is wrong with how we treat the working poor, disabled, which include veterans, and the elderly. Otherwise I will not vote for this bill. Today I did not vote for this bill!

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