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Jeff M.
Democrat OR

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  • Hire More Heroes Act of 2015—Continued

    by Senator Jeff Merkley

    Posted on 2015-09-22

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    Read More about Hire More Heroes Act of 2015--Continued

    MERKLEY. Madam President, today Pope Francis arrives in Washington. In 2 days, he will be speaking to a joint meeting of Congress, where he will undoubtedly remind us all to remember what he has termed ``the most abandoned.'' It was Pope Francis who said: ``I invite all of the institutions of the world, the Church, each of us, as one single human family, to give a voice to all of those who suffer silently from hunger, so that this voice becomes a roar which can shake the world.'' He continued and said: ``This campaign [to end hunger] is an invitation to all of us . . . to stop thinking that our daily actions do not have an impact on the lives of those who suffer from hunger firsthand.'' It turns out that the Pope's message on addressing hunger is more timely than we could have imagined. In a moment, I will explain why. It has to do with the government shutdown. Certainly we know from 2 years ago that a government shutdown hurts every family in America, it hurts small businesses across America, it sets the economy back, it creates all sorts of obstructions and frustrations, and it is a self-inflicted wound on America. Yet my colleagues across the aisle are contending that is exactly where they want to head, another showdown over social issues. We have been down this road before. It is a needless self- inflicted wound. We shouldn't be planning to go there.

    But here is why the Pope's words on hunger are particularly timely: Two years ago when we had a government shutdown, it did not impact the program known as SNAP or food stamps--the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or food stamps, as we often refer to it. That is because we still had funds left from the stimulus program to be able to make sure hungry Americans did have the ability to receive the credits on their electronic food stamp card and to purchase groceries for their families. But we are in a different position this time around.

    Last Friday the U.S. Department of Agriculture notified the Appropriations Committee that because the stimulus funds that existed 2 years ago are not there any longer, that come October 1, if we shut this government down, then we are also going to be [[Page S6886]] shutting down food stamps--that is shutting down food stamps for 45 million Americans.

    In my home State of Oregon, there are about one out of five Oregonians who depend on food stamps to hold hunger at bay. We are certainly talking about an incredible number of children among that number, so across the country, millions of children, millions more Americans--45 million Americans. Yet here we are saying that it is all right to shut down food stamps and leave millions of Americans with the prospect of going hungry.

    It causes me to reflect on Robert Kennedy's effort to take on hunger. He was known back in 1967 to have visited children in Mississippi, and he said the following: I have seen children in the Delta area of Mississippi with distended stomachs, whose faces are covered with sores from starvation, and we haven't developed a policy so we can get enough food so that they can live, so that their children, so that their lives are not destroyed. I don't think that's acceptable in the United States of America and I think we need a change.

    That is what Robert Kennedy said to our Nation. His advocacy had an impact in two particular areas, and that is that we proceeded to put a lot more resources into fighting hunger and we rewrote the food stamp regulations to provide greater access for those at the lowest income levels. The Food Stamp Program--or as it is now called, SNAP--has become the largest, most effective program in the United States in the fight against hunger.

    Again, the USDA contacted us Friday of last week and said it looks like they will have to shut down this program if there is a government shutdown. This did not happen 2 years ago, so this is new information. They said they are going to work through the weekend to see if they can find any way with an existing law to prevent this from happening. As of this morning, they had been unable to find any legal pathway to extend the Food Stamp Program should we be in a government shutdown.

    In our country, the poverty threshold for a family of four is about $24,000. For a family of four, that translates to about $6,000 a person. More than half of those who receive food stamps live in families who are below 50 percent of that threshold or roughly $3,000 per year per individual in the family.

    In my home State of Oregon, SNAP provides food benefits for about 800,000 residents or, as I mentioned, one in five Oregonians. This will have a widespread impact on hundreds of thousands of individuals in my home State and for my colleagues, hundreds of thousands of individuals in their States--45 million across the country. The USDA tells us that the timing for the recharging of the food stamp cards varies. Not everyone will be affected on October 1, but all of those 45 million would be affected in the month of October. The majority of the SNAP recipients in Oregon and nationwide are vulnerable populations. They are children. They are the disabled. They are the elderly. Can we not come together in a responsible fashion to prevent sending millions of Americans into a crisis over available food, millions of children across our country in a crisis because they do not have food because of our inability to act responsibly? The words Robert Kennedy used were that this should not happen in America. Let me repeat that certainly I believe this should not happen in America. I cannot conceive of any moral argument that would justify leaving our children, our disabled, our elderly hungry because a few people in this body want to make a political point over a social issue. That is unacceptable.

    I do a lot of townhalls back home in Oregon, one in every county every year. I hear from folks who are worried over a lot of issues. They are certainly worried about finding a good job. They are certainly worried about the cost of sending their children to college. They are certainly worried about cuts to Head Start programs and the quality of their public schools. They are worried about the possibility of a secure retirement. And now, because of the threats of partisan point- making here in the body of the Senate, they are going to have to worry about whether they can put dinner on the table and feed their children. That is wrong.

    The American people are sick and tired of Congress manufacturing crises like this. Let's move beyond this brinkmanship and this hostage politics. Let's avert this shutdown. Let's carry out the responsibilities to the people of the United States of America.

    Pope Francis said in that initial quote I noted that he invited all of the institutions of the world to give voice to all those who suffer silently from hunger. Little did he imagine that on the day he arrived here in Washington, DC, this institution--the U.S. Senate--would be involved not only in not helping those who are hungry but plotting and planning a shutdown of the government that will put millions of Americans into a food crisis. Let's change that. Let's come together. Let's address a responsible plan for carrying the full funding of our government forward.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Georgia.

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