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James M.
Democrat MA 2

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  • 50Th Anniversary of the War on Poverty

    by Representative James P. McGovern

    Posted on 2014-01-08

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    McGOVERN. Mr. Speaker, today we mark the 50th anniversary of the war on poverty--a dedicated legislative and policy effort by President Lyndon Johnson to reduce and eventually eliminate poverty in America. Yet, despite the many successes of the war on poverty--and there have been many successes over the past 50 years--there are those in this country and in this House who would destroy the programs that help people in need, those who have replaced the war on poverty with a new war on poor people.

    Unfortunately, that is what is happening right now with the farm bill. I am honored to serve on the Agriculture Committee and as a member of the farm bill conference committee. I want--and America needs--a strong, comprehensive, and forward-thinking bill. I represent farmers and farms, conservationists, and agriculture research institutions, and like every other Member of Congress, I represent people who rely on the nutrition programs in the farm bill to put food on their tables.

    That has been my primary focus as a conferee--to support and fight for the hungry in America. I believe the nutrition title--where SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, is authorized--is the most important part of the farm bill. This program provides food to 47 million food- insecure Americans--people who don't know where their next meal is coming from. Food insecurity, Mr. Speaker, is another way to say hunger. These people are hungry and they get food because they are on SNAP.

    We have been told that the House may vote on a farm bill conference report as early as next week. According to some reports, the bill would cut $8 billion from SNAP. Unlike the cut that took effect on November 1, where all 47 million SNAP beneficiaries saw their benefits cut by an average of $30 a month for a family of three, this $8 billion cut is more targeted. That doesn't mean it is any less harmful.

    This cut would change the way SNAP benefits are affected when a beneficiary gets a LIHEAP benefit. Many have described the application of this SNAP/LIHEAP connection--sometimes called ``Heat and Eat''--as a loophole, but calling this a loophole avoids the real issue at hand.

    The truth is that changing the way that Heat and Eat works--closing this so-called loophole--will reduce an already meager benefit for millions of Americans, a benefit that didn't last a full month even before the November 1 across-the-board cuts took effect.

    {time} 1015 Even worse, closing this so-called ``loophole'' would disproportionately affect poor seniors and the disabled--precisely the kinds of Americans we should be looking out for during difficult economic times. There has to be a better way.

    SNAP has been cut twice to pay for other programs--first, to offset programs that help teachers, firefighters and other social services, and a second time to offset improvements in the Child Nutrition Act. Now, these are good programs that deserve to be funded, although not at the expense of the hungry. I am all for compromise when all sides negotiate in good faith, but why does compromise in Washington always mean helping those who are well off at the expense of the poor? Remember, Mr. Speaker, this cut will reduce the SNAP benefit by about $90 a month for ``heat and eat'' households. Three million poor families would see their food assistance cut by an average of $90 a month. And would these billions of dollars in cuts go back to helping other needy people? No. In a farm [[Page H25]] bill that continues to subsidize big agribusiness and special interests and that further subsidizes a crop insurance program that is rife with fraud, waste and abuse, it is just one more cut to a program that helps our most vulnerable neighbors.

    Mr. Speaker, the November 1 cuts were devastating for 47 million hungry people. Just ask any food bank director in the country. Adding another $8 billion cut to another 3 million families will cause even more damage. If my friends insist on changing the LIHEAP provision, then they should at least have the decency to reinvest those savings into SNAP.

    Both Democrats and Republicans are talking a lot these days about the issue of income inequality. That is a good thing. So why on Earth would we pass a farm bill that makes the rich get richer and the poor get poorer? We can and must do better.

    It is a scandal that in the richest country in the history of the world we have a hunger problem. Members of Congress rush to the microphones to promote tax cuts and ease resolutions on Wall Street. All the while, there are people in this country--men, women and kids-- who do not have enough to eat. I will oppose any farm bill that makes hunger worse in America, and I urge my colleagues to do the same.

    In conclusion, let me say to my colleagues: there are some things worth fighting for. Ending hunger--making sure our fellow citizens have enough to eat--is absolutely worth fighting for.


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