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James M.
Democrat MA 2

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  • End Hunger Now

    by Representative James P. McGovern

    Posted on 2015-01-13

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    McGOVERN. Mr. Speaker, I have come to the floor today to give a voice to those who are hungry, to share their struggles, and to challenge my House colleagues to take meaningful action to end hunger now.

    Last week the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a troubling new report estimating that roughly 1 million unemployed Americans will be cut off from SNAP benefits over the course of 2016. The report anticipates that those affected will lose between $150 and $200 per person per month in food benefits--cuts that will cause serious hardship. Mr. Speaker, this is shameful, and it deserves our attention. We should be working to end hunger now, not making it worse.

    The 1996 welfare law limits individuals aged 18 to 50 who are not disabled or caring for young children to 3 months of SNAP benefits in any 36-month period if they aren't employed or in a work training program for 20 hours or more a week. That sounds reasonable, but when jobs and job training are not available, it isn't so reasonable.

    During times of high unemployment, Governors can request a waiver to the 3-month time limit for their State.

    [[Page H229]] During the Great Recession, Governors, both Republicans and Democrats, in 46 States have requested and have been granted some type of waiver from the 3-month time limit. This enabled unemployed adults to continue to look for a job in a tough job market without going hungry.

    Mr. Speaker, our economy continues to improve and unemployment rates across the country are falling, but we are not out of the woods yet. The most vulnerable among us--those with limited education and skills-- continue to struggle to find work.

    In October 2014, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated there were two unemployed workers for every available position. By that measure, even if every available job were filled by an unemployed individual, there still would not be enough jobs for everyone who needed one.

    When the current 3-month time limit waivers expire, the problem is that most States offer few, if any, job training programs. They aren't required to do so. And in States that do offer work programs, the number of individuals who need them far outnumbers the available slots. Come 2016, an unemployed adult actively looking for work, no matter how many job postings they respond to or how many resumes they send out, will arbitrarily be cut off from receiving food benefits through no fault of their own.

    The 3-month time limit as it is drafted is a severe penalty that hurts an already vulnerable population. According to USDA data, those who would be affected have an average monthly income of only 19 percent of the poverty line. They often do not qualify for any other types of assistance.

    Mr. Speaker, it is unconscionable that 1 million of the poorest Americans would be cut off from food benefits because their State does not offer job training programs or does not have the capacity to meet the demand for those who need help improving their skills. These individuals would be left on their own at an already difficult time. They may be forced to choose between food and rent or other necessities.

    Mr. Speaker, we need to adequately fund our job training programs, which this Congress has consistently failed to do, and we need to ensure that unemployed adults who are diligently searching for a job do not go hungry while they look for work.

    I am concerned--deeply concerned--about reports that Republican leaders want to launch yet another assault against SNAP. They want to cut the program even more. That would be a mistake and a disservice to one of the most efficiently and effectively run Federal programs. Even more important, it would be a disservice to so many of our citizens who are struggling in poverty.

    Mr. Speaker, I am also concerned about a Republican majority that is more interested in adhering to a political sound bite than in pursuing sound policy. Let's focus on ending hunger and ending poverty. Let's bring to an end the nasty, cruel, and negative rhetoric that has been used to demagogue SNAP and those who rely on the benefit that was so evident in the last Congress.

    Mr. Speaker, it is tough to be poor in America. It is hard work. We in Congress should be part of the solution, not part of the problem. We can do better. We can and we should do more to end hunger now.


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