Remarks as prepared for delivery:
I want to welcome our witnesses to today’s hearing and thank them for taking the time to share their thoughts and answer our questions about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It is the largest program under the Committee’s jurisdiction, and today’s hearing marks the beginning of a top-to-bottom review of the program. We will conduct this review without preconceived notions and with a commitment to strengthening the program so it can serve as a tool to help individuals move up the economic ladder.
SNAP has grown from a pilot program that served just 500,000 people in 1964 to a program that at its peak during the recession served more than 47 million Americans. Being post-recession and post-farm bill reauthorization, we are in the unique position of being able to conduct a pro-active review of SNAP, ensuring the program is prepared to address current and future challenges. There are also a number of bipartisan reforms enacted in the Agricultural Act of 2014, including new work pilots, which have not been fully implemented. Evaluating those important reforms will be a key part of our review.
Another key aspect to be included in this review is the private social services sector. From churches to non-profits and local food banks, they serve as important partners in the delivery of critical food assistance in communities across the country.
While the economy has changed and other
welfare programs have adjusted to meet changing needs, it does not appear that SNAP has. We have seen the overall unemployment rate fall, yet the number of long-term unemployed remains high. The lengthy “recovery” following the 2009 recession has brought in a new group of healthy, working age recipients, who in the past had not used SNAP. This is a new dynamic not previously experienced following other recessions when periods of unemployment were much shorter.
Some programs have responded to the changing needs of its target population. We’ve watched as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, program has moved increasingly toward more services, such as transportation and child care, compared to cash assistance, in order to better support the needs of working parents.
We can all agree that no one ought to go hungry in America, and SNAP is essential in protecting the most vulnerable citizens during tough times. For many it is a vital lifeline to keeping food on the table. What we don’t want is for this program to hold people back from achieving their potential. I believe there is a role for SNAP, but we need to have a complete and clear understanding of its mission and purpose.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today as we explore where this program has been, were it is now, and what it could be for recipients and taxpayers in the future.