Congressman Jim McGovern

Representing the 2nd District of Massachussetts
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U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern End Hunger Now Speech: We Need a Living Wage

Jun 9, 2014
Press Release

M. Speaker, Over and over again, House Republicans complain about federal spending, especially when it comes to our nation’s premier anti-hunger safety net program known as SNAP. They say the program is too big – that it’s bloated and it’s full of fraud, waste and abuse.

These claims are patently false and have been dispelled over and over again. But there’s something else missing from the House Republican’s attacks on SNAP – a plan to responsibly shrink the program.

Of course, House Republicans have many irresponsible plans to reduce SNAP spending – they want to make it harder and more costly for states to administer the program; they want to prevent people who have served their time in prison from being able to receive SNAP benefits; and they want to prevent those struggling with drug addiction from being able to receive SNAP benefits. In other words, they want to deny food to hungry people.

Not one of these ideas are thoughtful or responsible. But, M. Speaker, there is a way to reduce SNAP spending in a responsible way that doesn’t take food away from hungry people. It’s simple, it’s non-controversial, and it makes sense.

M. Speaker, the best way to do this is to raise the minimum wage. We know that hunger is a subset of poverty. If people earned enough money, they wouldn’t need help making ends meet – they wouldn’t need Medicaid, SNAP, or housing assistance. The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 and hasn’t been raised in five years. The real value of today’s minimum wage is less than two-thirds of what it was in 1968. The result of such a low minimum wage is that many full-time workers live in poverty and have to rely on public assistance programs in order to make ends meet.

I’m a cosponsor of the bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Doing so wouldn’t just result in increased wages for American workers – although that’s the most important result. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would cut SNAP spending by $4.6 billion per year.

$4.6 billion each year.

That’s an amazing figure, M. Speaker, and that reduction in spending comes simply because people would earn enough money to buy their own food. Imagine that – by increasing people’s wages, we reduce the number of people relying on federal assistance programs.

A recent study commissioned by the Center for American Progress documents this. They show that SNAP benefits decline 30 cents for every $1 increase in family earnings. This report goes on to show that a ten percent increase in the minimum wage reduces SNAP enrollment by between 2.4 percent and 3.2 percent and reduces SNAP spending by 1.9 percent. That means that 3.5 million Americans would be cut from SNAP not because of some arbitrary and hurtful policy but because they earn enough so they don’t need SNAP any longer.

M. Speaker, this is just good, common sense. We should be doing more to bridge the income inequality gap. We should be doing everything we can to make sure people are earning as much as they can so we don’t need federal programs like SNAP or Medicaid.

We shouldn’t be talking about a minimum wage, M. Speaker, we should be talking about a living wage. Just look at my hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts. The minimum wage is $8 an hour. But a living wage for two childless adults is just under $15 an hour and it rises to $18.30 for two adults with one child.  While I support an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, that’s not going to cut it for a family of three.

And that’s why I’m encouraged by what the city of Seattle has done. They responsibly raised their minimum wage to $15 an hour, an increase phased in over the next six years. That is essentially the average national living wage. While I believe our effort to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 is a good one and is the right policy, I believe we need to think bigger and bolder. Seattle passed this increase with the blessing and approval from both labor and business groups. That is an amazing coalition.

M. Speaker, raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do. It’s the moral thing to do. And it will actually have real impacts on the lives of poor families living in this country. It will cut SNAP spending by $4.6 billion per year. And 3.5 million people will be able to stop relying on SNAP simply because they are earning more in every paycheck they take home.

This is a good, commonsense way to reduce SNAP spending and make people’s lives better. We should increase the minimum wage today.

I yield back the balance of my time.