Opening Statements

Opening Statement: Ranking Member Dusty Johnson Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations Public Hearing: “Examining the Proposed ABAWD Rule and its Impact on Hunger and Hardship”

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Washington, April 3, 2019 | comments

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

Good morning. I appreciate the Chairwoman convening this hearing and thank our witnesses for their participation.

For me, the best foundation for today’s hearing is three central truths: We all want to improve the lives of Americans facing hard times, SNAP is an important poverty program, work is a critical part of giving people the opportunity to move out of poverty.

Each person here today is fighting for the same goal –we all want to see the lives of Americans improve. A number of us, on each side of the aisle, have been supported by poverty programs at one time or another in our lives. We all want to help the less fortunate, even if we sometimes disagree on the best way to do that. We spend over $1T per year across more than 80 social service programs. We are a nation of giving.

Able-bodied adults without dependents—ABAWDs—have been part of that very conversation for more than 20 years. From the bipartisan welfare reform efforts of 1996 to the 2018 Farm Bill, this is a topic that Congress has spent decades discussing. We’ve made progress, but our work isn’t done, so we have an opportunity to work together to find and promote data-driven solutions for ABAWDs.

You may have heard me say that work has dignity. That work is opportunity. Work is an American value that we need to help all achieve. What we should be debating is how we move able-bodied adults from welfare to work and preserve these programs for our most vulnerable friends and neighbors. The past several years have yielded record levels of job openings and economic growth.

For that reason, I applaud Secretary Perdue and USDA in taking regulatory action to make work a more central component of this important program. The proposed rule will encourage work-capable individuals to seek new opportunities and achieve their goals.  Some states have taken too much liberty with the flexibility provided by Congress, and many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle have raised concerns about this problem.

The term “able-bodied” is key to this discussion and we should empower, not stigmatize, this population. These are individuals with a variety of challenges that can seek employment, stabilize their income, and move to a place of personal autonomy. I think about Latasha, a former E&T participant here in Washington. Latasha completed her child development certification and has been working since 2012. She argues that SNAP is a stepping stone, and not a lifestyle.   

Ignoring the need for reform does not lead to change. It is the purveyor of status quo. Let’s work with states and SNAP recipients to move them from welfare to work.

With that, I yield to the Chairwoman and again welcome our witnesses.
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