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Chairwoman Stabenow Opening Statement at Hearing on Nutrition Programs in the Next Farm Bill

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, Today released the following opening statement at a hearing titled “Farm Bill 2023: Nutrition Programs.” Live Video of the hearing is available here.

I call this hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry to order.

Welcome to Deputy Under Secretary Stacy Dean and to Administrator Cindy Long.  We are fortunate to have you here today as we review the Farm Bill nutrition programs in preparation for the 2023 Farm Bill. 

Last week, our hearing covered the farm safety net.  Today, our fifth Farm Bill hearing covers the family safety net.  These critical programs help people afford their groceries make healthier choices find work benefit farmers and our entire food economy. And, they lift millions of American families out of poverty.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, helps more than 40 million children, seniors, working adults, veterans, and people with disabilities buy food to feed their families.  These are our friends, neighbors, and relatives who deserve to be able to put food on the table even when they are going through a hard time.

Like the single mom of two in Macomb county who just lost her job and doesn’t know how she’s going to pay for rent and feed her kids.  Or the retired couple in Gladwin county who lives on a fixed income and worries about covering the cost of their medication and the healthy diet they need to manage their diabetes.

SNAP reduces food insecurity by 30 percent, and it provides needed benefits to more than 1 million of our nation’s veterans.  Studies show that families who participate in SNAP are healthier than eligible people who do not, reducing health care costs by as much as $5,000 per person per year.

Every parent will tell you that a hungry child cannot learn, and we know that eligible children who participate in SNAP have better educational outcomes and future participation in the American workforce.

SNAP is one of the most responsive and effective economic tools we have at our disposal.  Every dollar spent in SNAP increases the GDP by one dollar and fifty cents, making SNAP the fastest way to stimulate the economy during an economic downturn, particularly in our rural communities.

SNAP is a countercyclical support.  Just as we see spending in farm programs increase when commodity prices are low, spending in SNAP increases during economic downturns.  As the economy improves and families no longer need assistance, SNAP spending naturally decreases.  And it is important to note that when SNAP spending increases, it does not take money away from farm programs.  We witnessed the program expand and contract based on need during and after the Great Recession, and most recently during the pandemic.

Just yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office released their updated budget projections which show the economic challenges that still exist and that families are still hurting as a result.

It is important to remember that, to the individual recipient, SNAP is a modest form of assistance.  The average benefit is only about six dollars per person per day for all of their meals combined.  I’m sure there is at least one person in this room who has spent more than that on their morning coffee.

The bipartisan work we accomplished in the 2018 Farm Bill directed a long overdue re-evaluation of the Thrifty Food Plan, not done since 1975.  This update increased the average SNAP benefit by less than two dollars per day, a modest increase but one that is estimated to lift 2.4 million people, including 1 million children, out of poverty. 

The 2018 Farm Bill also expanded opportunities and partnerships through the SNAP Employment and Training Program (or SNAP E&T), including increased funding, new public-private partnership options, and adding evidence-based comprehensive case management and supervised job search components to E&T.  Additionally, the 2018 Farm Bill invested in SNAP technology improvements and strengthened the SNAP quality control system.

As we turn to the 2023 Farm Bill, I look forward to strengthening health outcomes in SNAP through programs like SNAP Nutrition Education and the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program or Double Up Bucks.

We should continue to support individuals in finding long term employment through SNAP E&T while rejecting harsh work requirements that only serve as barriers to Americans getting temporary help they need.

SNAP – and other nutrition programs that we will consider today like the Emergency Food Assistance Program (or TEFAP), the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, weave the fabric of a proven safety net for American families – a safety net we must preserve and protect. 

And while it is not the topic of today’s hearing, I want to commend the USDA for announcing their efforts to update the WIC food package as well as their proposed rule to make school meals more nutritious through thoughtful, commonsense policies.

I look forward to hearing important feedback from stakeholders.

With that, I’ll turn to Ranking Member Boozman for any opening remarks he’d like to make.