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Chairwoman Fudge Opening Remarks at Subcommittee Hearing on The Potential Implications of Eliminating Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility for SNAP Households

Washington, June 20, 2019

WASHINGTON (June 20, 2019) – House Agriculture Committee Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations Chairwoman Marcia Fudge of Ohio delivered the following remarks at the subcommittee hearing on the potential implications of eliminating broad-based categorical eligibility for SNAP households.

[As prepared for delivery]

“The purpose of today’s hearing is to examine the impact of any potential action by the Administration to eliminate or dramatically restrict the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s use of categorical eligibility (cat-el). Cat-el is a longstanding bipartisan policy that helps streamline the administration of social service programs for states.

“According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) eliminating broad-based cat-el would mean 400,000 eligible households would lose SNAP benefits. An estimated 265,000 eligible children would lose direct access to free school meals. 

“Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time in recent memory that changes to cat-el have been offered by our Republican colleagues. A similar proposal was included in the House-passed 2014 farm bill and again, the same attempt was made during last year’s farm bill negotiations.

“In both cases, Congress debated the issue and the proposals were ultimately excluded from the final conference agreements. I believe these ill-conceived attempts to eliminate broad-based cat-el were unsuccessful, in part, because cat-el is a state option that is widely used. 

“Forty-three (43) states and territories—including many with Republican governors—use broad-based categorical eligibility. These states rely on cat-el for its flexibility to provide critical assistance to those in their respective states in need of a hand up to make ends meet.

“Categorical eligibility enables states to better meet the needs of hard-working families by matching gross income qualifications with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF (TAN-iff) program, and SNAP.

“As I’ve said previously, Republicans love talking about states’ rights, promoting state flexibility, and handing over to states the administration of federal safety net programs. But when it comes to putting that rhetoric into practice for SNAP, they want something very different.  This despite decades of proof that cat-el provides states the flexibility they need and want to better serve vulnerable households.

“Eliminating cat-el would increase the burden on states, while providing no additional resources for the extra paperwork and personnel, another unfunded mandate for states. It seems Republicans only like to promote states’ rights when it means cutting off access to benefits and weakening the social safety net. 

“At the same time the Administration is working to restrict states’ use of cat-el, USDA issued guidance encouraging SNAP states to adopt flexibilities to pursue child support orders; a widely unpopular and sparsely used state option with high associated administrative costs. 

“The party of states rights” seems more interested in a one-size-fits-all approach based solely on conservative ideology. They continue to criticize the program from on high; they talk about the ‘dignity of work’ and the ‘cycle of poverty’ using pseudo-academic data from armchair thinktanks; and they ignore already-strict work requirements in statute to paint a dishonest picture of greedy, shiftless welfare sponges.

“At every turn, Republicans invoke the welfare reform of President Bill Clinton in the mid-90s.  Well I’ve got news for you: it was Clinton and then-Speaker Newt Gingrich who established cat-el as the law of the land—a bipartisan, state-centered approach. The Administration’s FY2020 budget forewarned us of potential changes to cat-el, so it’s no surprise that there is a related pending rule in USDA’s Regulatory Agenda.

“Now here we are again with my Republican colleagues looking to the White House to accomplish what they could not: dramatically change cat-el.

“Again, I ask what do Congressional Republicans and this Administration have against poor people?  I’ve asked that question in past hearings on this issue, across multiple Congresses.

“I am willing and eager to engage my Republican colleagues in a conversation about how to make this program more effective and accessible to hungry Americans.  So long as that conversation does not start with the same tired attempts to reduce the SNAP rolls. That’s not a conversation that I’m willing to have.”

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