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Congresswoman Betty McCollum Statement for the Record on H.R. 3102 - Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act

September 19, 2013
Statements For the Record

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to submit two articles into the congressional record. The first is an op-ed that I wrote about the importance of federal nutrition assistance that was published in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The second is a powerful story published in the Star Tribune and written by Sue Bulger, a Minnesotan, whose family uses SNAP benefits. 

As Members of Congress, we cannot ignore the harm enacting the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act (H.R. 3102) will have on millions of our fellow Americans. I urge my colleagues to vote against this bill and instead come together to craft a bill that strengthens SNAP and ends hunger in America.

Congress must help eliminate hunger

By Betty McCollum

For too many Minnesotans, a steady job no longer provides the guarantee of being able to always afford food for their family. One out of five children in the United States, including thousands in Minnesota, lives in a household struggling to put enough food on the table.

As many families continue to work toward recovery from one of the worst economic recessions, Congress must commit itself to helping struggling families make ends meet and providing a brighter, healthier future for their children.

The Supplemental Nutrition Access Program makes it possible for more than 45 million low-income families, people with disabilities and seniors to avoid hunger when times are tough. Simply put, SNAP helps our most vulnerable neighbors feed their children and themselves when they would otherwise run out of food before the next payday.

Working to eliminate hunger should be a bipartisan goal, but House Republicans have put SNAP on the fiscal chopping block. In July, Republicans tried to eliminate nutrition benefits for nearly 2 million Americans, including more than 30,000 Minnesotans, by cutting $20.5 billion from SNAP. That harmful attack failed to pass the House. Instead of finding a bipartisan solution to fight hunger, Republicans have decided to double down on increasing hunger.

On Monday, Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) put forward a bill to cut an estimated $39 billion from SNAP over the next decade. This latest Republican attack could eliminate benefits for as many as 3.8 million Americans and force many more struggling families to stretch their limited budgets even further. It would also cut funding for SNAP Nutrition Education, which supports nutrition education and teaches healthy food choices.

SNAP Ed programs help Minnesotans stretch an average daily food budget of less than $4 to buy and prepare healthy meals. Hands-on cooking classes and interactive grocery store tours are offered to help individuals make smart, beneficial decisions. With less money to spend on groceries each month, the necessity of nutrition education becomes even more real.

Last month, I attended a Cooking Matters nutrition education class in St. Paul sponsored by University of Minnesota Extension and Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign. Since 2011, more than 1,600 Minnesota families have been empowered with the skills, knowledge and confidence to prepare nutritious, affordable meals. These extension classes are critical to ensure that households can continue putting healthy food on the table for their children. Studies demonstrate that children who get enough of the healthy food they need grow up facing fewer health problems, perform better in school, lead more productive lives and are less likely to struggle with hunger as adults. Nutrition education programs like Cooking Matters are essential to helping families gain the skills they need.

These GOP cuts will do nothing except increase hunger and poverty across America. Throughout the summer, I heard from faith leaders, community advocates, government officials and other Minnesotans deeply concerned by the Republican efforts to eliminate SNAP for struggling Americans. The local focus is on ending hunger. As Patricia Lull, executive director of the St. Paul Area Council of Churches, put it, "No more hungry neighbors!"

SNAP is the most powerful and effective anti-hunger program for children that exists. To reduce childhood hunger in Minnesota and across America, we must continue to invest in SNAP and nutrition education services.

The Republican plan will deny nutrition assistance to millions of Americans and cruelly increase hunger. Congress needs to defeat this cruel and immoral proposal. To keep all our families healthy, strong and hunger-free it is critical that Congress fully fund SNAP, not cut it.

Shamed in Edina for using food stamps

To the irritated lady at the Cub Foods, I should have told you to your face that you were being presumptuous.

This is an apology to the lady behind me in line at Cub Foods in Edina on a recent Sunday night. This is also a reminder to me and to others who have ever slipped into believing that we are just a little better than others we encounter.

We were at the checkout, and just as the cashier started ringing me up, I saw you come to the line with a small order in your basket. My first apology is that I could not let you go ahead of me, but the checkout process had already begun.

My second apology was for pulling out my pile of discount coupons for the order, and especially when one required the manager’s assistance. I know I was holding you up.

And then I swiped my payment method and you lost your patience. It was EBT — “food stamps.”

I did not observe you, but my daughter was with me packing the groceries and saw it all: “EBT: Yeah, right,” you muttered, with that look of disgust that would have shattered someone feeling just a little bit of shame over needing food stamps.

As we walked to the car, my daughter told me what had happened, and I sensed her resolve about having made the right decision to work for social justice as she starts her senior year in a social-work program.

We talked about you all the way to the car, and about how sorry we felt for people who were judged because they depended on support from others. But my real apology is that I did not make eye contact with you and get out of the car to talk with you as you got into your car right next to mine.

Instead, I did what many people would do: I felt ashamed and humiliated and angry about your ignorance.

If I’d had the guts to talk with you, I would have told you about my disabled 28-year-old son living with us. We have never asked for public support for him.

But recently we have decided that it is our responsibility to introduce him to the programs that will have to support him when we are no longer here to care for him. We started small: He is eligible for food support, and he agreed to receive it to be able to feel that he is contributing his share to the food bill, since he is unable to work.

I know we looked like people you might think need EBT: a bit unkempt in sweatpants and T-shirts. If I’d had the guts to talk to you, I would have told you that I’d just had an emergency surgery and that my daughter came home from college five hours away to help for the weekend because my husband had scheduled surgery two days after mine. I haven’t been able to put on real clothes yet, and I can’t lift a bag of groceries.

I thought I could handle your disdain, since I am a professional working at a local corporation where I am surrounded every day by people who respect me and care about me. But it still made me feel a little dirty — unworthy — and I still went home and cried in the privacy of my shower so my family would not know I was hurt by you.

I am sorry I did not tell you all of this in person. What my daughter and I resolved is that we will never let my son (her brother) go to the store alone with his Electronic Benefits Transfer card and be subjected to this humiliation.

We all have our stories, and no one is any better than another. Everyone deserves the respect they want for themselves, even if they use an EBT card to pay for their groceries.

Sue Bulger lives in Minneapolis.