Congressman Jim McGovern

Representing the 2nd District of Massachussetts
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Senior Democrat McGovern Responds to GOP Report on SNAP

Feb 14, 2017
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA), the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee’s Nutrition Subcommittee and a leading champion for anti-hunger programs, released a strong response to committee’s report on the 18 hearings held in the previous Congress on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). Click here to view the letter online.

In the 114th Congress, the House Agriculture Committee held 18 hearings on the “Past, Present and Future of SNAP.” In more than 30 hours of testimony from over 60 experts from across the country, these extensive and instructive hearings resulted in 830 pages of official hearing record from which the Committee compiled a 66 page report, released in December.  

In today’s letter, Congressman McGovern presented six key findings to House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway (R-TX). McGovern will keep these priorities front and center in the upcoming debate over the 2018 Farm Bill.

In the letter, McGovern said, “I applaud your commitment to creating this comprehensive body of evidence on SNAP but as the summary report was completed without input from the Minority members, I am writing to emphasize some of the most powerful testimony given before the Committee that I believe should help guide policy decisions in the upcoming farm bill.”

Key Findings in McGovern Letter on House Agriculture Committee Hearings on SNAP:

  1. SNAP Benefits Should Not Be Cut: Nearly 50 million Americans, including working families, veterans, seniors and the disabled, struggle to put food on the table. SNAP is a vital tool to help struggling Americans get back on their feet and participation has steadily declined as economic conditions have improved because of its entitlement structure.
  2. The SNAP Benefit is Inadequate: On average, SNAP households receive about $255 a month. The average SNAP benefit per person is about $126 per month, which works out to just $1.40 per person, per meal.
  3. SNAP Does Not Discourage Work: About 30 percent of SNAP households have earnings from wages, salaries or self-employment. Of those not working the majority are children, elderly, disabled or were caring for children or disabled family members in their home.
  4. Eliminating Work Waivers Hampers State Flexibility and Increases Hunger: Current law mandates that adults between the ages of 18-50, who are able to work, are limited to three months of SNAP out of every three years. States can choose to waive this limit and have done so during times of high unemployment.
  5. Creating Innovative, Evidence-based Programs and Supporting Good Case management is an Investment: Case management that helps connect those in need with tailored services to move out of poverty can be successful.  However, high quality, effective case management for those who need it, requires a well-funded multi-year commitment to families and individuals.
  6. Programs that Provide an Economic Ladder Require Adequate Funding: Block granted programs provide only flat funding and are not responsive to economic changes.  Since 2000, federally funded block grants that pay for critical work supports like housing, job training, maternal and child health and childcare have eroded by 37 percent.

As this testimony reflects and you have stated, “SNAP is essential in protecting the most vulnerable citizens during tough times. For many it is a vital lifeline to keeping food on the table,” McGovern concluded. “We look forward to working with you to incorporate these expert findings into policy in the 115th Congress.”

Full text of the letter is below. Click here to view the letter online.

February 14, 2017

K. Michael Conaway

Chairman

House Committee on Agriculture

1301 Longworth House Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20515

 

Dear Chairman Conaway:

In the 114th Congress, the House Agriculture Committee held 18 hearings on the “Past, Present and Future of SNAP.” In more than 30 hours of testimony from over 60 experts from across the country, these extensive and instructive hearings resulted in 830 pages of official hearing record from which the Committee compiled a 66 page report, released in December.  

I applaud your commitment to creating this comprehensive body of evidence on SNAP but as the summary report was completed without input from the Minority members, I am writing to emphasize some of the most powerful testimony given before the Committee that I believe should help guide policy decisions in the upcoming farm bill:

SNAP Benefits Should Not Be Cut:

Nearly 50 million Americans, including working families, veterans, seniors and the disabled, struggle to put food on the table. SNAP is a vital tool to help struggling Americans get back on their feet and participation has steadily declined as economic conditions have improved because of its entitlement structure.

“…the notion that charity helps to support the Government programs is an important concept and it is an important partnership, but it is the Government programs that provide the kind of consistent, stable, and baseline support that these families need, and that charity alone could never be responsive enough.”

Abby Leibman, Mazon, January 12, 2016

“…I am arguing that food stamps are a crucial part of what I call the work support system, and a lot of people work because they can, not just with their own wages, which are often low, but because they get these other benefits, up to around $30,000 or so, they can make their family better off because of food stamps, Medicaid, childcare, and so forth. So the government programs that help them are essential. That is the main point of my testimony.”

Dr. Ron Haskins, The Brookings Institution, October 27, 2015

“We recommend that Congress refrain from making any further benefit cuts, and avoid making any structural changes that would weaken SNAP’s ability to respond to increased needs due to economic changes. We recommend that you resist expanded work requirements, particularly on workers 50 plus, who typically take longer to find new permanent employment after being unemployed.”

Eric Schneidewind, AARP, January 12, 2016

“I talked on a number of occasions to Erskine Bowles, to Alan Simpson, to people involved in Domenici-Rivlin, and to the Senators of both parties of the Gang of Six, and they made a specific determination that deficit reduction should not increase poverty or hardship. And they weren’t saying that there were no improvements that could be made in these programs, but they were saying that they did not think reducing benefits in these programs was an appropriate source of deficit reduction.”

Robert Greenstein, Center on Budget Policies and Priorities, February, 25, 2015

The SNAP Benefit is Inadequate:

On average, SNAP households receive about $255 a month. The average SNAP benefit per person is about $126 per month, which works out to just $1.40 per person, per meal.

“I know everybody is on different sides of this issue politically, but people can’t parent well and raise happy, healthy children who are ready to learn, and you can’t work well if you are hungry, if you are wondering where your next meal is coming from, or if you had to spend your lunch money taking a cab because you were late for work that morning. It is super frustrating to me that this fundamental thing that is the sort of basis of all human health is even a debate.”

Pamela Hess, Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture, November 16, 2016

 

“Your concern for program duplication should be balanced with the knowledge that the Federal nutrition programs do not meet the need. Funding for these programs is wholly inadequate, and the evidence of this is the billions of dollars that private sector plows into buoying their shortfalls. Food banks, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and food pantries feed millions of hungry Americans shorted by these programs. And no matter how reputable, food banks are a scourge on our nation’s reputation. We should put them out of business because the grocery store is where food comes from and the most dignified way to get it is to buy it with your wages. The day we no longer need food banks is the day that we end hunger.”

Sherrie Tussler, Milwaukee Hunger Task Force, May 20, 2015

“But I will tell you that if we can keep the Federal nutrition programs strong, then the dollars that we get from private donations can actually help us support those innovative efforts. But right now so many of us are having to buy additional food to ensure that people have food to eat as food programs such as SNAP goes through cuts.”

Kate Maehr, Chicago Food Depository, April 15, 2015

 

“So the Thrifty Food Plan…the basis for which the SNAP benefit—just assumes a very meager diet, and heroic assumptions about how much time families have to cook, shop, and really extreme assumptions about what they are buying, relative to the rest of America. A more realistic food plan, including a low cost food plan, would just make high—more nutritious, healthy diets, put them within reach of families on this program.”

Stacy Dean, Center on Budget Policies and Priorities, March 2, 2016

SNAP Does Not Discourage Work:

About 30 percent of SNAP households have earnings from wages, salaries or self-employment. Of those not working the majority are children, elderly, disabled or were caring for children or disabled family members in their home.

“Somehow we have determined that punishing people with hunger will motivate them towards work. Hunger doesn’t motivate. It dulls and it makes people sick.”

Sherrie Tussler, Milwaukee Food Bank, May 20, 2015

“The conclusion of a team of leading researchers who examined all of the research in the field is that SNAP does not pose significant work disincentives, and its effect on the amount that people work is small… There also was testimony before the Senate Finance Committee a year or… so ago from one of the nation’s leading conservative economists, Robert Hall, who is at Stanford and at the Hoover Institution, and he said the data do not seem to support the view that the social safety net is discouraging labor for SNAP.”

Robert Greenstein, Center on Budget Policies and Priorities, February 25, 2015

“…the research bears out that families that have jobs that have unpredictable work hours, or that are seasonal workers, have major income fluctuations, and those income fluctuations are not necessarily accommodated in the SNAP program, so people may lose their SNAP benefits before they have stabilized their income, and are more likely to report hunger.”

Mariana Chilton, The National Commission on Hunger, November 18, 2015

Eliminating Work Waivers Hampers State Flexibility and Increases Hunger:

Current law mandates that adults between the ages of 18-50, who are able to work, are limited to three months of SNAP out of every three years. States can choose to waive this limit and have done so during times of high unemployment.

“I think it is reasonable to have some adjustment during a recession in Federal work requirements. I am not sure I would suspend them, but I would give people a longer time to find a job, for example, would be a reasonable approach.”

Ron Haskins, The Brookings Institution, October 27, 2015

“Yes, in California, we are anticipating the end of the waiver in parts of the State in about eighteen months, and we are engaged in a lot of planning on that because we do think the rule would be very harsh—harshly felt by families. And it is very complicated, frankly, to

administer and administer accurately. No, we do not have enough jobs and enough job training and enough job slots.”

Kim McCoy Wade, CalFresh Branch Chief, September 13, 2016

Creating Innovative, Evidence-based Programs and Supporting Good Case management is an Investment:

Case management that helps connect those in need with tailored services to move out of poverty can be successful.  However, high quality, effective case management for those who need it, requires a well-funded multi-year commitment to families and individuals.

“…you can’t expect programs to be built on evidence of effectiveness if there is no evidence. The most innovative ideas for social programs frequently come from states or local providers. But state and local agencies and private service providers often lack the resources to put these ideas into practice. Thus, we need funds to encourage providers to experiment with new, promising ways to help those in need, and to build strong evidence for innovative programs.”

James Sullivan, The University of Notre Dame, July 15, 2015

“Our efforts at the Texas Hunger Initiative demonstrate informed engagement, and are building a foundation for evidence-based solutions. We believe that allocating resources to the Hunger Free Communities line in the farm bill will expand the capacity of informed engagement in public and private partnerships, resulting in greater local coordination, strengthened social networks for low-income Americans. And when public and private partnerships are carefully informed by research and evaluation, stronger networks are likely formed between clients and local organizations, thus building a foundation for increased social capital for low-income families. We believe that this has the potential to reduce the need for long-term Federal assistance.”

Jeremy Everett, Texas Hunger Initiative, July 15, 2015

“The families that we work with have a 44 percent earned income gain within the first year, and their tax payments go up by 35 percent. We know, from a return on investment analysis, that the investments we are making in these families are cost effective for the public dollar, and decrease subsidies, and increase tax payments. You are right in saying that we have to expect these interventions to prove their worth, and we have to work with families in a way that is going to be able to create that public value for the interventions that we have.”

Elisabeth Babock, Crittenton Women’s Union, June 10, 2015

“So the complexity of the interplay between these issues means that Congress needs to take a good hard look at securing the level of benefits at a rate that provides people with financial stability, and is a realistic safety net that allows them to get security and then move off of benefits. For those for whom gainful employment is no longer an option because they are either disabled or they are too senior to work, then we need to think about systems and how those play into other kinds of supports that allow people to live with dignity as they age, and they can provide themselves and their families with the kind of support that they need.”

Abby Leibman, Mazon, January 12, 2016

Programs that Provide an Economic Ladder Require Adequate Funding:

Block granted programs provide only flat funding and are not responsive to economic changes.  Since 2000, federally funded block grants that pay for critical work supports like housing, job training, maternal and child health and childcare have eroded by 37 percent.

“Families don’t just come with one issue. And when a child is sick, we see that there are a lot of things that are going on. It is not just about food, it is also about housing, it is also about income…We have to think about other things like childcare supports… because if you have more moms who are working at low-wage jobs, if you don’t have the childcare to help that backstop, it is really not going to be very helpful for that mom. So there are a lot of interlocking needs that we need to address.”

Dr. Eduardo Ochoa, Arkansas Children’s Hospital for ChildrensHealthWatch, October 27, 2015

“So I could not recommend more highly the utilization of resources to address transportation issues. After housing, transportation is really the second highest cost center to a struggling family living in poverty or living on low wages. And it is really critically important that we consider those challenges.”

David Stillman, Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, September 13, 2016

“Particularly, in the rural communities, transportation is really, really critical because the availability of jobs is constrained. As to child care, it is the single funding issue that we struggle with the most. It is a real problem.”

Pete Weber, Fresno Bridge Academy, September 13, 2016

As this testimony reflects and you have stated, “SNAP is essential in protecting the most vulnerable citizens during tough times. For many it is a vital lifeline to keeping food on the table.”

We look forward to working with you to incorporate these expert findings into policy in the 115th Congress.

 

Sincerely,

 

James P. McGovern

Ranking Member

 

 

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