Remarks as prepared for delivery:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Welcome Deputy Under Secretary Dean and Administrator Long.
Administrator, I hear this is your first appearance at a Congressional hearing. Welcome to the historic Agriculture Committee hearing room.
And I see Associate Administrator Shahin has accompanied you both. Ms. Shahin, please accept my heartfelt gratitude for your work at the Department, and I wish you a peaceful, easy retirement.
Moving on, to say this hearing is long overdue is an understatement.
The Agency which occupies more than 80 percent of this Committee’s spending has gone unchecked for nearly four years.
Each section of Title IV of the 2018 Farm Bill made nominal changes to a program that has since exploded to serve more than 40 million individuals, at a current cost of roughly $9 billion per month.
And what frustrates me most at this moment is my Democrat colleagues have already drawn a line in the sand—this program will not be touched in the next reauthorization of the Farm Bill.
How can we be so certain everything in Title IV is perfect? Or untouchable?
I disagree, and as I am sure we will hear today, there are things we can improve, and things we can change.
Being shortsighted on policy improvements shortchanges the millions of households who depend on SNAP when their lives take a turn.
So, despite my colleagues’ narrow outlook, I think we need to contemplate SNAP through four principles, particularly as we shift from emergency spending and administration to more targeted and informed programming.
First, we need to further explore how to serve recipients through innovation and flexibility. If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it is there is no one way to serve families in need.
Second, we must think about the best ways to guide recipients to independence through employment, education, and training. While waivers related to work under the former Administration were logical, they are now clearly keeping employable individuals idle and disengaged. It is time to talk about reemployment, with a specific focus on those who have left the labor force.
Third, we cannot deny program integrity has been compromised. I want to work with the Department to return to and maintain the virtues of SNAP. That includes normal modes of data collection and normal modes of analysis and dissemination of information, to ensure the responsible use of program funds.
And last, and perhaps most importantly, we must come together to improve access and promote healthy foods and improved nutrition. Employment, healthcare costs, and general longevity are highly dependent on the foods we consume. Together with modernized nutrition education initiatives, the nutrition research funding secured in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, and the existing library of research on healthy eating, USDA is uniquely positioned to improve the nutrition of millions of households, not just those deemed 'healthy.'
I think my colleagues across the aisle can agree with each of these principles. Where we diverge is how to preserve the program for those in actual need, without regulatory loopholes and fuzzy interpretation of the law, both of which exploit the very intent of the program. Where we diverge is the reality that this one title will cost taxpayers nearly one trillion dollars over the next 10 years.
With this exorbitant spending increase, namely because of the less-than-transparent and questionable Thrifty Food Plan update, the Biden Administration and the current Majority consciously put a colossal financial and political target on any future Farm Bill, compromising not only the nutrition title, but the 11 other titles which support and protect every farmer, rancher, forester, and rural community.
Adding insult to injury, many of us learned of the Thrifty Food Plan scheme through a choreographed effort by pro-poverty advocates and their media allies. Beginning on January 22, 2021, more than three dozen outlets, including The Washington Post, NBC News, Bloomberg, CNN, and CBS News, uniformly touted the Department’s work to rapidly proceed with the egregious TFP update.
And while we will continue to debate this attempt at Executive overreach, I do want to ask one thing of you, Madam Deputy Under Secretary: be more forthcoming. As the Ranking Member of this Committee, I prefer to learn directly from the Administration, not from lobbyists. Or reporters. Or the Internet.
Lastly, I do hope today allows some conversation on pandemic-related policies and spending. I ask unanimous consent to submit for the record an April 15th article by The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board entitled 'The Eternal COVID Emergency.'
I remain concerned pandemic aid is set to become endemic aid, and that various issues caused by this Administration’s own actions—and at times, inaction—have my colleagues and their mouthpieces thinking emergency allotments and SNAP-related waivers should be carried on in perpetuity. I beg to differ.
With that in mind, I also look forward to an implementation update on each of the relevant sections of the 2018 Farm Bill, and the Agency’s timeline to implement any outstanding provisions. I hope we can have an honest conversation about what’s working and what’s not, and how we move forward.
Thank you again, Ms. Dean and Ms. Long.