Opening Statements

Opening Statement: Subcommittee Chairwoman Walorski: Addressing Special Populations

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Washington, January 12, 2016 | comments
Remarks as prepared:

Good morning, happy new year, and welcome to today’s Nutrition Subcommittee hearing. I want to thank everyone for taking the time to be here and I want to thank, in particular, our witnesses for their participation.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is by far the nation’s largest federal food assistance program. Last year, we began a review of the past, present, and future of SNAP, holding ten hearings at the full committee and subcommittee level. The review started from a broad perspective, but has narrowed in focus, examining such topics as the role of the charitable sector in fighting hunger and the use of evidence-based solutions to measure outcomes.

One of the last hearings of 2015 examined the effect of hunger on children and how they can break the cycle of poverty. In our first hearing of 2016, we are picking up where we left off by looking at challenges facing special populations. Seniors, veterans, and active-duty military families each have unique needs. Speaking broadly, they are more vulnerable than other populations to illnesses and physical and mental impairments that affect their ability to be fully independent.

A simple trip to the grocery store may not be so simple if they have to maneuver a motorized wheelchair. Their ability to prepare food may be hampered by arthritis or an inability to stand for long periods of time. Climbing the economic ladder through work is not necessarily an avenue available to them. And yet under SNAP, they’re treated under a one-size-fits-all model.
Consider the makeup of the veteran population alone. As a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, I’m well aware of the range of ages and abilities under this one umbrella. You have seniors who fought in World War II and Korea, baby boomers who served in Vietnam, those who more recently returned from Afghanistan and Iraq, and everyone in between. Some are in perfect health. Others face one or multiple diseases or physical or mental conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, arthritis, PTSD, or traumatic brain injury. And as more women answer the call to serve our country, that means women will make up a greater proportion of the veteran population. Given the diversity in the makeup of this population, one size cannot possibly fit all.

As for active duty military, the USDA has estimated that there are between 2,000 and 20,000 military families signed up for SNAP. However, a quirk in the eligibility calculation adds a needless complication to a family’s decision whether or not to live on the base. The housing provided to a family living on a base does not count toward SNAP eligibility, which lowers their income and increases the benefit. On the other hand, the allowance that a family receives to live off a base does count toward eligibility, which raises their income and decreases the benefit. There are plenty of pros and cons that a military family must weigh as they decide whether or not to live on the base, but that shouldn’t be needlessly clouded by whether or not they get a higher SNAP benefit.

Finally, the ranks of seniors are set to swell as the baby boomer generation enters retirement and health advancements help people live longer. Seniors have the lowest rate of SNAP participation of any demographic the program serves, but they also have the lowest rate of food insecurity. A low rate of food insecurity, however, doesn’t give license to overlook the many factors that can contribute to hunger among seniors, including a fixed income, illness, health care costs, specialized diets, and access to transportation.

Before I close, I want to reiterate a theme that has been consistent throughout this review: SNAP does not operate in a vacuum. SNAP alone will not end hunger, food insecurity, or poverty. SNAP is a piece of the larger puzzle. Everyone– the federal government, state governments, nonprofits and the private sector, researchers, and recipients themselves – has a role to play in lifting Americans out of poverty and up the economic ladder.

Today we’ll hear from witnesses who can attest to challenges faced by each group and potential ways to lower barriers. I thank each of you again for being here and lending your expertise and I look forward to hearing from you.
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