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Robert S.
Democrat VA 3

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  • Hunger in America

    by Representative Robert C. "Bobby" Scott

    Posted on 2016-03-01

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    SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the gentleman from Massachusetts not only for yielding, but also for his years of work fighting hunger. He is one of the strongest advocates we have in Congress in fighting the scourge of hunger. I want to thank him for all of those years of good work.

    It is my privilege to be the ranking member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce. In that perspective, we played an integral role in the reduction of food insecurity and lowering the prevalence of debilitating health conditions, including obesity, diabetes, and others.

    Our committee is tasked with making sure all children have an equal shot at success. One important way is to ensure that by providing healthy, nutritious meals.

    There is a Federal role in ensuring that every child has access to a quality education, regardless of where they live or their family's income, and nutrition is a part of making sure they can get that education.

    More than 60 years ago, when Congress enacted the first Federal child nutrition program--the National School Lunch Program--Congress acknowledged that feeding hungry children was not only a moral imperative, but also an imperative for the health and security of our Nation.

    The National School Lunch Program was actually a response from the military community who were complaining that so many of our young military age youth were unprepared for military service because they were malnourished.

    Regrettably today, we are faced with the same crisis that impacts our Nation's national security. Too many of our children are now obese, too obese to enlist in our Nation's military. One-third of the children in this country are overweight, and childhood obesity has tripled in the last 30 years.

    While all segments of the population are affected, low-income families are especially vulnerable to obesity and other chronic diseases because they end up eating unhealthy food.

    Unfortunately, the poorest among us have the least access to healthy foods, many times without a full-service grocery store or farmer's market in their community.

    We still have a long way to go, but there have been positive signs of progress through the implementation of our child nutrition programs.

    Thanks to the introduction of stronger standards brought about by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, enacted just a few years ago, students [[Page H1080]] across the country are experiencing healthy school environments with more nutritious meal options.

    One area in dire need of increased access to child nutrition programs and nutritious meals they provide is Flint, Michigan. As everybody knows, the residents of Flint are struggling with the consequences of exposure to high levels of lead as a result of the city's contaminated municipal water supply.

    Lead exposure is especially damaging to infants, toddlers, and expectant mothers and can cause behavioral and cognitive problems that last a lifetime.

    Although there is no cure for lead poisoning, research shows that a healthy diet, including zinc, vitamin C, iron, and calcium, can mitigate some of the harmful effects.

    Federal supplemental funding for nutrition programs, especially the WIC program, would allow access to healthier diets.

    Funding for a nutrient-rich third meal, an extension of WIC benefits, to 10 years of age for all eligible children would go a long way to help the residents of Flint, Michigan, deal with lead poisoning.

    Mr. Speaker, our committee is now working on a child nutrition reauthorization bill. With this reauthorization, we have a great opportunity to continue to improve the way that children eat, to expand access to nutritious meals, and to end the crisis of childhood hunger in this country.

    These efforts do not end with the school year or even the school day. Whether in schools, childcare settings, or summer programs, our goal should be to provide high-quality and nutritious food to all of America's children.

    We have a choice to make. We can put money into these important programs now and support healthy eating in our schools and other settings or we can cut corners and spend more money down the road on chronic diseases and other social services, putting the well-being of our children and our Nation's security at risk. Make no mistake. Either way, we will spend the money.

    A few years ago medical expenditures to treat obesity in the United States were estimated to be $147 billion, 16.5 percent of all U.S. medical expenditures.

    Investing in the front end, by maintaining strong nutrition standards and increasing access to healthy meals, is obviously a better choice for our Nation.

    Mr. Speaker, I urge my fellow Members of Congress to continue to invest in our Nation's future by moving forward, not backward, on issues of food insecurity and child nutrition.

    I want to thank the gentleman from Massachusetts again for his longtime advocacy, for his efforts to reduce hunger and to provide better nutrition for our Nation's children.

    Mr. McGOVERN. I thank the gentleman for his comments and for his leadership, and I thank him for pointing out the links between good nutrition and good health.

    We actually will save money in the long run if we provide our people, our young people in particular, nutritious food. We can prevent diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

    If people aren't moved by the human aspect of feeding the hungry and all they care about is the bottom line, they ought to join with us to make sure that these nutrition programs are adequately funded.

    In addition, you can't learn in school if you are hungry. A breakfast and a lunch to a young child who is hungry is every bit as essential to that child's ability to learn as is a textbook.

    We need to understand that. We need to stop nickel-and-diming these nutrition programs and understand that every dollar we invest, every penny we invest, pays us back in ways that can't even be quantified, quite frankly.

    Mr. Speaker, I yield to the gentlewoman from Connecticut (Ms. DeLauro), a leader on this issue, a woman who is on the Appropriations Committee, who, again, has been a champion for many, many years on this issue of combating hunger in America.

    Ms. DeLAURO. I thank the gentleman, and I thank my colleagues. I am so proud to join with you tonight And to Congressman McGovern, your unrelenting efforts to address the issue of ending hunger and doing it now, you have been singularly an individual who has never missed a beat in trying to address this issue and bring it to the floor and the public.

    And to my colleague from Virginia, who has taken his platform of the Education and the Workforce Committee and have had a focus on how, in fact, we improve the opportunities for our children and whether it is their health or their education, he is at the forefront.

    I see we have been joined by Congresswoman Gwen Moore of Wisconsin, someone who can talk about her own deep personal experiences with hunger and with the food stamp program and what it means to be able to work your way out of these efforts. She has done it to a fare-thee- well.

    Mr. Speaker, over 50 million people--nearly one in four--live in hunger in the United States. Don't ever let anybody use the terminology ``food security.'' It is plain and simple hunger.

    Kids are hungry in the United States of America. Hunger exists in virtually every community in this country. Social safety net programs are vital tools for reducing the prevalence of poverty and hunger.

    The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP--food stamps, yes--is one of the most powerful programs that we have for ending childhood hunger in the United States. It helps millions of hardworking American families every year.

    SNAP works for those who need it most. It has been incredibly successful in alleviating hunger, lifting people out of poverty, and supporting our economy.

    SNAP continues to do more than any other government assistance program to lift Americans out of poverty. The numbers speak for themselves.

    In 2014 alone, the program lifted 4.7 million people out of poverty, including 2.1 million children. SNAP also lifted more than 1.3 million children out of deep poverty. What is deep poverty? It is 50 percent of what the poverty line is in this Nation.

    The program impacts children well beyond their childhood years. Research shows that, among children who grow up in disadvantaged households with access to SNAP, there is an 18 percentage point increase in the likelihood of completing high school.

    There has also been evidence of significant improvements in overall health and economic self-sufficiency among women.

    SNAP is an extremely efficient program. More than half of all of the benefits go to households in deepest poverty, and over 70 percent of all benefits go to households with children.

    Despite what some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle would say about fraud, waste, and abuse, the food stamp program has the lowest error rate of any Federal Government program, the lowest error rate.

    Based on this anecdote that it is rife with fraud, waste, and abuse, they would deny children food. The data speaks loud and clear about the lowest error rate of any Federal program.

    Of course, it is not just children. SNAP helps millions of seniors, people with disabilities, veterans, low-wage workers, and others.

    However, Speaker Ryan and other Republican House Members say that we spend trillions of dollars on these programs and, yet, the poverty rate does not change. This is simply not true.

    I talked about the statistics earlier on in my comments. Without these critical safety net programs, more Americans would go hungry. As we have said, SNAP kept about 4.8 million people out of poverty, including 2.1 million children.

    The data belies what their conversation is and the stories they want to tell and, quite frankly, fabricate around the food stamp program.

    The Republican proposals for SNAP include a push to enact block grants, which my colleague, Mr. McGovern, mentioned before, an idea that Jared Bernstein, former chief economist to Vice President Biden called ``one of the most destructive ideas in poverty policy.'' Let me mention some of the statistics that have been compiled by Children's Health Watch in Boston, Massachusetts.

    If the SNAP benefits were reduced either through block granting or some other mechanism to reduce food stamp benefits so as to create instability in these households, this is what they say would be likely to occur: 23 percent would be more likely to have households that are food insecure; 70 percent [[Page H1081]] more likely children would be food insecure; 36 percent more likely to be in poor health if this happens; 70 percent more likely to be at risk for developmental delays--this is about our kids, about our children-- 12 percent more likely to be hospitalized; children in kindergarten through third grade would be more likely to have measurably lower reading and math test scores; and reduced SNAP benefits would decrease the likelihood of mothers having a baby with a healthy weight and of a low-birth-weight baby surviving.

    This is not Jim McGovern or Gwen Moore or Bobby Scott or Rosa DeLauro making up these statistics. They come from an organization which tracks all of these measures.

    {time} 1630 My colleagues, it would include drug testing policies for SNAP recipients and prohibitions for certain food purchases.

    What kind of priorities are these? We can't continue to wage a war against food stamp recipients. Nobody is asking for any other recipients who get Federal subsidies to be drug tested. Let's start with the Crop Insurance people. Let's start with that. Let's take all of the programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture where there is a subsidy and a recipient to that subsidy. Let's get them all drug tested.

    We are going to continue to stand up against unconscionable attacks on America's poor working families. I urge my colleagues to stand with us in ensuring that the Federal budget does not harm working families and children by decimating the hunger programs in this Nation.

    Mr. McGOVERN. I thank the gentlewoman for her eloquent statement.

    Mr. Speaker, I yield to my colleague from Wisconsin (Ms. Moore).

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