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Ranking Member Boozman’s Opening Statement at Hearing Entitled “Farm Bill 2023: Nutrition Programs”

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR), ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, released the following opening remarks, as prepared, at the hearing entitled “Farm Bill 2023: Nutrition Programs.”

Good morning. I thank the chairwoman for holding today’s hearing.

As I meet with Arkansans, food insecurity is an all too familiar experience in rural and urban parts of my state. Thankfully, the nutrition programs that this committee authorizes, programs I have been proud to support, are there to provide help. I have long advocated for domestic and international food assistance programs. In fact, some of the most meaningful accomplishments the chairwoman and I achieved in the 117th Congress were related to feeding hungry people.

As we work our way through the titles of the farm bill, it is important for this committee to review our nutrition programs and make sure they are working as intended and being implemented properly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), like every other farm bill program.

Many do not realize this, but the nutrition title is, by far, the costliest title in the bill. Yesterday’s Congressional Budget Office (CBO) baseline projection shows that farm bill nutrition programs will cost more than $1.2 trillion over ten years, which is greater than 80 percent of the total cost of the bill. In fact, according to CBO we will spend more on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) from 2023 to 2033 than we have in the previous two decades combined. Since the last farm bill, the cost of the largest of these programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, has grown by more than 94 percent, from $65 billion annually in 2018 to an expected $127 billion in 2023.

The pandemic and inflation drove some of these cost increases but let there be no doubt that the largest driver was a decision by the leadership of the Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services (FNCS) mission area to abandon 40 years of precedent and increase SNAP benefits by 21% to record-high levels, levels that are unsustainable. Some will cynically point to provisions to update the Thrifty Food Plan in the 2018 Farm Bill as the basis for USDA’s action, but Congress never agreed to permit a quarter of a trillion-dollar spending increase. As the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently documented, FNCS used a sloppy process with an accelerated schedule. USDA knew the outcome it wanted and then backed into it. Because of these actions, FNCS’s political appointees have made passage of the 2023 Farm Bill much more difficult, because they showed a lack of good judgement and gross abuse of discretion. By leaning on the scales, they chose to disrupt the delicate balance of the farm bill coalition and severely eroded the trust that is crucial to legislate and to govern.

When one program constitutes more than 80 percent of the spending in the next farm bill, and thereby effectively crowds out the ability to make crucial investments in every other title, is there really any room left for farmers in the traditional farm bill coalition?

As a reminder, SNAP is intended to supplement a beneficiary’s monthly grocery budget, it was not created to serve as the beneficiary’s monthly grocery budget. SNAP is available to anyone who qualifies because it is an entitlement program—there are no participation caps. There are however specific requirements to receive benefits. One of those requirements is related to work.

To qualify for benefits, participants must work 20 hours a week or be in job training. I think most would agree that 20 hours a week is equal to part time work. For nearly three years, SNAP participants have been exempted from work requirements. It is time for this exemption to end and it is time for USDA to get serious about enforcing work requirements. States should no longer be allowed to game the system. Jobs, good jobs, are plentiful. There are more than 11 million jobs open across the economy, equivalent to nearly two job openings for every unemployed person. Approximately five million of those job openings are in 25 states and territories that are not enforcing work requirements. This job gap pushes labor costs higher, slows supply chains, delays our economic recovery from the pandemic, and importantly, is a large contributor to the historic inflation facing our nation.

So why is the Biden Administration not promoting work? As study after study proves, work equals dignity. A culture of dependence weakens our communities and our country. SNAP is a valuable program, but it should lead to self-reliance, not generational dependence.

As someone who has consistently supported SNAP, WIC, and school nutrition programs, I cannot overstate how damaging FNCS’s conduct has been. I am deeply disappointed in its appointed leadership. This is why oversight is so necessary, because at the end of the day, what FNCS has done has weakened the program it supposedly was trying to help. That unfortunately will be the legacy of this decision.

Madam Chair, I request inclusion in the hearing record the report conducted by the GAO on the Thrifty Food Plan, the GAO determination that USDA failed to submit the Thrifty Food Plan food basket increase to Congress as a rule as required by the Congressional Review Act, and the updated baseline released by CBO yesterday, which shows an increase in SNAP outlays from 2023 to 2032 by $93 billion dollars, likely in large part due to USDA having the ability to increase the cost of the food basket under the Thrifty Food Plan again in 2027 and 2031.

Again, I thank the chairwoman for holding today’s hearing. I look forward to questioning our witness.