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Chair Hayes Opening Statement at Hearing on SNAP

WASHINGTON - House Agriculture Committee Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations Chair Jahana Hayes delivered the following statement at today's hearing titled "The Future of SNAP: Moving Past the Pandemic":


[As prepared for delivery]

Good afternoon and thank you, everyone, for participating today in the first hearing in the 117th Congress of the Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight and Department Operations. I am honored to serve as Chairwoman of this crucial subcommittee and want to publicly express my full commitment to crafting impactful, lasting policy. 

Before beginning the substance of this hearing today, I want to emphasize to my colleagues on this subcommittee that our work will require bipartisan engagement and cooperation. Over this Congress, we will be tasked with evaluating our response to COVID-19, leading our communities out of concurrent crises, and tackling a new Farm Bill. I am steadfast in my commitment to ensuring everyone has a seat at the table as we approach these monumental tasks. I look forward to working with the Ranking Member, Mr. Bacon, and all the other Members of this Subcommittee. Please know that my door is always open to you. 

In addition to my distinguished friends and colleagues on the subcommittee, we are very pleased and grateful to welcome a panel of experts today. Thank you all for being here. I look forward to introducing you and hearing your testimony shortly.

The title of today’s hearing is “The Future of SNAP: Moving Past the Pandemic.” The purpose of this hearing is to recount the lessons we have learned about food security and nutrition access during the COVID-19 crisis –and also to use those lessons as a roadmap for closing the glaring gaps in policy which left so many Americans food insecure in the first place. 

After witnessing the events of the past fifteen months, there should be no doubt about the tremendous need for SNAP and other nutrition programs. Temporary increases to SNAP benefits and accommodations made to state administrators, along with creative approaches to feeding students learning from home, and the amazing work of food banks across the country have helped to guard against the worst consequences that could have been caused by concurring health and economic crises. The built-in responsiveness of SNAP to shifting economic conditions has supported working families who, during this crisis, found themselves in uncertain economic conditions. Thankfully, these efforts to expand and strengthen the nutrition safety net have, for the most part, succeeded.

As we will hear from our panel of witnesses today, SNAP during COVID has been crucial for those suddenly without an income, as well as parents forced to choose between a job and caring for their children in remote school. Ms. Davis and Ms. Wilson will testify to the strain of a household suddenly without the means to provide. Drs. Bauer and Boynton-Jarrett will offer data and clinical evidence of the precarious situation created by the pandemic, especially for women and children, and how nutrition assistance is essential. Mr. Whitford, Executive Director of Watered Gardens ministries in Missouri, will talk about the charity work of his mission and work training center.

This testimony will illustrate what I know to be true from first-hand experience: that SNAP is a hand-up, not a hand-out, for Americans striving to achieve self-sufficiency. Today’s testimony will show that fear of hunger is not an economic motivator, but an obstacle to success, and threat to public health. And that hunger does not discriminate. It exists in every one of our districts. Hunger effects our friends and neighbors, the elderly, the disabled, single mothers, working parents, and people of all ages, races and beliefs. 

During this hearing, I am sure we may also hear some concerns regarding the SNAP program. That SNAP benefits discourage work; that emergency allotments and a 15% increase in benefits are just too expensive; that there is fraud within the SNAP program requiring updated quality control measures. While anecdotally there may be such instances – these programs work and they are lifesavers. I know this because they saved my life.

As a young mother, I worked two jobs and attended school. But I still qualified for benefits. SNAP allowed me to put food in my children’s mouths while I worked my way to economic stability.

That memory of stress, and the threat of hunger, is a reality that I take into this work as Chairwoman of this Subcommittee. My lived experience has shown me that SNAP, and other safety net programs, are not just hand-outs for people unwilling to work toward self-sufficiency. They are a critical support which ensures that hunger is not another obstacle in the way of Americans striving for stability. 

On this Subcommittee, we have an opportunity to ensure that these supports are strengthened for Americans in each of our districts. I am excited about this work and look forward to continuing to deliver for the American people. 

With that, I want to once again welcome all of you today and give a special thanks to our panel for sharing their time and expertise. 

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