Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Senator Debbie Stabenow Remarks on Nutrition Assistance

Senator Debbie Stabenow Remarks on Nutrition Assistance Wednesday, September 18, 2013 Remarks as prepared for delivery Mr. President, I rise today to talk about the relentless assault on the poor and hungry in this country that’s being waged right now in the House of Representatives and too often here on the Senate floor. The meltdown on Wall Street caused a recession in this country that was worse than anything we’ve experienced since the Great Depression. 8 million Americans lost their jobs. Trillions of dollars in the stock market were wiped out – and with that money went the life savings of many middle-class families. Many families lost their homes. Small businesses closed up shop. This was an economic disaster that hit communities across this country just as hard as any natural disaster. And while Wall Street is doing well again these days, millions of families on Main Street are still waiting for their situation to improve. We are seeing new job creation. But millions of Americans are still out of work. Millions of Americans are still out of work. While jobs are being created, the employment rate has remained nearly flat since the Great Recession. What the House Republicans are saying is this: get a good paying job or your family will just have to go hungry. But there aren’t enough good paying jobs, as you can see. And to add insult to injury, they are slashing the job training money that states get to help these men and women find work. Economists point to the irresponsible sequestration cuts as a cause of sluggish job growth. In the Senate, we’ve passed a budget that will replace sequestration with a balanced solution – but a handful of Senators are blocking us from being able to even send negotiators to the House to finalize the budget. And so we are now stuck with a policy that makes absolutely no sense, that economists say is slowing down our economy and costing us jobs, because of political games in Washington. And this is having a serious effect on the wallets of Americans who continue to find it difficult to put food on the table for their families. Even those people who are able to find work are working for less money. Wages, as a percent of the economy, are at 30-year lows. So this is the situation that millions of American families are finding themselves in today: they are struggling to find work, and when they do find work, the salary isn’t even close to what it was before the recession. Many people have taken pay cuts to keep their jobs, or they’ve had their pay and benefits frozen for four or five years now. Families that just 10 years ago were doing fine are now in dire straits. And now, the same Republicans who refuse to fix the sequester, who refuse to work with us to get our economy moving again for millions of middle class families, are trying to take temporary food assistance away from the children and families who are out of work, or who are working one, two, or even three part time jobs and can’t make ends meet. We know that many families receiving SNAP are working families. They are people with children whose wages are falling behind so they are no longer able to feed their families. For those who have lost their jobs, SNAP is a short-term lifeline to keep food on the table while they search for a job. We know that the average new SNAP recipient only receives assistance for 10 months or less. And we know that SNAP recipients are using that money to feed their children. Nearly half of the people receiving SNAP are, in fact, children. The real faces of food assistance are hungry children whose parents are trying their best to get back on their feet. The real faces of food assistance are seniors whose only income is Social Security, who rely on SNAP so they have enough to buy groceries. The real faces of food assistance are veterans who went to war for this country, many of whom were injured, and returned home only to find that they can’t find a job, or their disabilities make it impossible to work. And instead of honoring those men and women for their service, House Republicans want to take away the little bit of help they get each month to help them buy food. If you add this up, 85% of people receiving food assistance are children and their parents, people with disabilities, and senior citizens. The bill being considered in the House of Representatives would kick millions of children and their families off of food assistance. That’s how Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Republicans would cut $40 Billion in food assistance. They do it by cutting off individuals and families who need the assistance most. Under the Republican plan, which Eric Cantor says encourages people to get back to work, benefits for jobless adults without children would be limited to just three months out of three years. That means if you lose your job and are unemployed for six months, you only get help for three of those six months. And once you find a new job, you had better make sure your company doesn’t close within the next two and a half years, because you aren’t going to get any help with food then, either. It’s important to note that according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, 14 million people will stop receiving food assistance over the next 10 years the right way - as the economy has improved and they are back on their feet financially. But the House Republican Leader’s bill eliminates families from food assistance the wrong way – by eliminating food help to those who are most in need: • 1.7 million poor, unemployed adults next year whose average income is about $2,500 per year; • 2.1 million low-income working families and seniors next year, and 210,000 children who would lose school lunches; • And other unemployed parents – and by extension, their children – who want to work but cannot find a job or a training program to join. They say it’s about getting people back to work, but this bill cuts worker training and job placement services for people who are trying to get back to work and get off SNAP. People on SNAP want to work, but there just aren’t enough jobs for them. Right now, we have three unemployed workers for every job opening. So does the Republican plan do anything to help people find jobs or the job training skills they need to get a good paying job? No! In fact, the Republican plan would offer cash-strapped states a truly perverse incentive, allowing them to keep half of the federal money that would have been spent on food whenever they kick someone off the program! Let me be clear, we have seen occasions of fraud and abuse in the food assistance program – and that’s why the Senate Farm Bill includes major reforms to crack down on misuse of the program to make sure only people truly in need are getting help. We heard reports of people winning the lottery and getting SNAP benefits – so we reformed the program to make sure that doesn’t happen. We saw liquor stores accepting food stamps when they don’t really sell much food – so we reformed the program to make sure that can’t happen anymore. Where there were real abuses to food assistance program, the Senate passed real reforms to crack down on those abuses. And we did that in a bipartisan way. But what the House Republicans are voting on is nothing more than an extremely divisive, extremely partisan political exercise that is going nowhere. And it is jeopardizing the passage of a 5 year Farm Bill! We have never seen this kind of partisanship injected into a Farm Bill! And shame on Eric Cantor and his allies for doing so now. Our farmers, our ranchers, our small towns and rural communities and our children and families do not deserve this! 16 million people work in America because of Agriculture. And they don't deserve this!! What is happening this week in the House of Representatives isn’t about reality. It’s about fiction – an idea that if the stock market is doing well, if wealthy Members of Congress are doing well, then surely everyone in America must be doing well too. And anyone who isn’t must be lazy or not trying hard enough. The reality is that most people in America are still struggling to get back on their feet from the recession. There still aren't enough jobs for every person who needs one. The jobs that are there pay less than they did 5 years ago. The families getting food help are making around $500 a week. They don’t have money in the stock market. They don’t have investment income. In fact, the average SNAP family doesn’t have more than about $300 in assets. What they do have is about $4.53 a day to eat. $4.53 a day - that’s less than one specialty coffee. And some members of the House of Representatives have decided that is just too much. We all want to spend less on food assistance – and the good news is that we are spending less in our Senate Farm Bill. The spending baseline for SNAP is going down as the economy improves. $11.5 Billion in reduced spending is built into our Farm bill because more people are finding jobs. Again, the Congressional Budget Office projects that 14 million people will leave the program as the economy improves because they no longer need temporary help. And SNAP recipients are already going to see cuts to their benefits on November 1 because of the expiration of the Recovery Act provisions that temporarily boosted assistance to families in need. If we want to continue to cut spending the right way, we should be working together to invest in our economy, support our businesses – large and small – to out-innovate the global competition, get rid of the sequester, and help people get the training they need to find good-paying jobs. The Republican approach is like saying we’re tired of spending so much on wildfires, so we’ll just cut the budget of the fire service. That isn’t going to work. The fire will rage on, and it will only get worse. We need to find ways to prevent or contain the fires in order to reduce our costs. The Republican approach is also like saying we're tired of paying for the costs of droughts, and flooding, and other crop disasters so we're going to cut crop insurance. The government’s cost of crop insurance went up over $5 billion – or 50 percent – last year. And while we’re seeing increases in spending on crop insurance, it’s projected that spending on food assistance will actually go down by $11.5 billion over the next 10 years. Are the House Republicans proposing we eliminate help for farmers in a disaster? Or just low-income families when they have a disaster? What is happening in the House right now is a complete reversal of fifty years of American values. Today in the United States of America, 1 in 6 people say they don’t know where their next meal is going to come from. 1 out of 6 Americans! In the greatest, the wealthiest country in the world! We have a long history in this country of making sure that poverty and hunger are kept in check. President Ronald Reagan understood this – he said “As long as there is one person in this country who is hungry, that’s one person too many, and something must be done about it.” What would he have to say about this effort now in the House of Representatives, to blame the victims of poverty and unemployment? To blame the children, and the seniors, and the veterans who only want enough food to eat? The House Republicans who are proposing these drastic cuts all have enough to eat. We in the Senate do as well. None of us wonder where our next meal is going to come from. None of us have to worry about how to feed our children tonight. None of us have to skip meals so our children don't go to bed hungry. We in America are better than the debate being waged in the House. And the good news for children, families, seniors, the disabled and veterans across America is that the House bill will never see the light of day in the Senate! It's time to stop the political games around hunger and poverty in America. It's time to work together to pass a Farm Bill, grow the economy and reduce the need for food assistance the right way.....by making sure every American has the opportunity to have a good paying job so they can feed their families and achieve their part of the American Dream.

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