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Ranking Member Stabenow Opening Statement at Hearing on Nutrition

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry, today released the following opening statement – as prepared for delivery – at the hearing entitled “Nutrition Programs: Perspectives for the 2018 Farm Bill.”

Stabenow’s statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:

I want to start by recognizing the heartbreaking devastation that Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have caused in the Southeast.

These destructive storms underscore the critical need for disaster assistance –for both our farmers and our families.

I commend Secretary Perdue for his quick action to administer food assistance and provide flexibility for those in the path of these storms so that having enough to eat is the least of their worries.

Our families deserve a reliable safety net in times of need. Whether it is making Disaster SNAP available during a hurricane, or ensuring that a veteran can weather the storm of job loss during a recession, nutrition assistance programs are vital to rebuilding after disaster strikes.

The Great Recession hit our country like a force of nature, causing too many Americans to lose their homes and jobs. For those who face unexpected unemployment, or underemployment, SNAP is a short-term lifeline to keep food on the table while they look for a stable, long-term job that allows them to fully support their families.

This is a point worth repeating – SNAP supports families. Nearly half of SNAP recipients are children and the vast majority of SNAP recipients are children, seniors, disabled or parents and caregivers living in these households.

Approximately 1.5 million veterans receive SNAP at some point during the year and many of these heroes are considered able-bodied, despite lasting challenges from their times of service.

Even current military families face food hardship. Many utilize SNAP and visit foodbanks that are often stretched thin to meet community need.

It is important that we keep these real people in mind, like Mr. Parker who is here today to share the impact SNAP has had on his life, as we consider changes to nutrition assistance in the Farm Bill.

As a Committee, we can make improvements to SNAP, while still preserving critical food access. In the 2014 Farm Bill, we made common-sense reforms to further strengthen the integrity of nutrition assistance.

While nutrition programs have an extremely low rate of error and fraud, we addressed rare cases of misuse while protecting benefits and eligibility for SNAP participants that needed access to the family safety-net.

We also included Employment and Training Pilots to allow states to test innovative strategies to help SNAP participants find stable, long-term employment.

As we will hear today, these pilots, along with the broader SNAP Employment and Training Program create important community partnerships to connect people to jobs and training that work.

Rather than focus on arbitrary cuts to push people off of SNAP, we should focus on the types of voluntary partnerships that help families succeed.

The good news is, this is already happening. As the economy has improved and people are getting back to work, we’re seeing huge savings in nutrition programs.

The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that the Farm Bill is projected to save $80 billion more than initially expected, largely driven by reduced spending on food assistance.

Looking ahead to the next Farm Bill, we will also continue to look for ways that we can strengthen health outcomes in SNAP through efforts like SNAP Nutrition Education and the Food Nutrition Incentive Program, known as Double-Up Bucks.

We’ll also ensure that oversight of SNAP at the state and federal level is working effectively. I look forward to hearing from the USDA and the Inspector General’s office today on the steps that are already being taken to ensure accuracy and timeliness in SNAP.

I also want to learn more about the ways we can support the work the Food and Nutrition Service is doing to strengthen the quality control system.  

As we look ahead, we will continue to fine-tune programs and protect food access for millions of families.