Opening Statements

Opening Statement: Chairman K. Michael Conaway Hearing on the Past, Present, and Future of SNAP: The Means to Climbing the Economic Ladder

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Washington, DC, June 10, 2015 | comments

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 perspectives as we explore the means to helping families climb the economic ladder. This hearing, like those before, builds upon the Committee’s top-to-bottom review of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Throughout this process, we have had an eye towards strengthening SNAP so that it doesn’t become a trap but rather a tool to help individuals move up the economic ladder. Today we’ll hear a variety of ways to actually do that.

As we have learned throughout this hearing series, SNAP does not operate in a vacuum. It should not be expected to carry the entire load and provide all solutions for the most vulnerable. That being said, it does serve an important role in the lives of nearly 46 million Americans.

In order to better understand and serve SNAP recipients, it is important to have a realistic view of what it takes for many Americans to get back on their feet and remain in the workforce. Steady employment makes it possible to climb the economic ladder and rise out of poverty. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 2.7 percent of full-time workers are poor, as defined by the Federal Poverty Level, compared with 32.3percent of adults who do not work. Even part-time work makes a significant difference; only 17.5 percent of part-time workers are poor.

That’s why SNAP has long had an employment and training component. However, in an effort to promote administrative efficiency and decrease costs –often at the expense of benefit costs– the program overall has moved away from engaging recipients. What we’ll hear today is that the opposite should be happening – a greater level of engagement is needed between SNAP and recipients.

Encouraging work is good for both recipients and taxpayers. Increasing work among SNAP recipients increases economic mobility, leads to greater financial stability, and improves outcomes for children. There is also great dignity that comes from being able to provide financially for one’s own family.

Prior testimony provided before this Committee has consistently shown recipients do want to work, and research by USDA shows that many adults do. We heard about this during our last full committee hearing from Keleigh Green-Patton, a former SNAP recipient. In her testimony she shared her story of intermittent times in her life when she received SNAP. One of those times was when she was an adult and unemployed, with two small mouths to feed. As she made her way back into the workforce, she described SNAP to be “like a trampoline” in helping her to back in the workforce.

However, there are still large numbers of households –many with children– that do not report earned income, which is income that a person receives for doing work. According to the latest USDA SNAP Characteristics Report, only 31% of total SNAP households reported earned income. For households without children, the disabled or the elderly, it drops to only 1 out of 5 households having reported earned income.

SNAP, along with other programs and approaches, should be temporary support as individuals improve their financial situation. We want more Keleighs and more trampolines. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today as we seek to better understand how to help individuals enter, re-enter, and remain in the workforce, and experience the dignity of work.

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Tags: SNAP