Press Release

In Floor Speech, Gillibrand Calls on Senate Not to Slash $4.5 Billion for Hungry Children

Jun 6, 2012

Washington, D.C. – In an effort to protect access to healthy, nutritious food for struggling children and families, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand took to the Senate floor today to urge her colleagues not to cut $4.5 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as part of the Farm Bill, now being debated by the full Senate.

A $4.5 billion cut to SNAP funding would affect nearly 300,000 New York families, who would lose approximately $90 a month, according to estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO).


Senator Gillibrand’s Remarks

I want to begin by taking this opportunity to thank the chairwoman of the agriculture committee and the ranking member for their very, very strong efforts in getting this bill to the floor today. Their steady hand of leadership has made vast improvements for America’s agricultural community and our economy as a whole, and I know that the tireless efforts of our chairwoman and her staff undoubtedly leave America’s farm policy in a stronger position than when she found it, and I know she has worked with a forward-looking vision for a thriving agricultural economy and rural community. 

I also want to thank the chairwoman and the ranking member for working with me and all the members of our committee throughout the process that got us here today, and because of this strong work, I’m urging my colleagues to vote for cloture on the motion to proceed to this bill. 

When I first came to the senate three years ago, I became the first member from my state of New York to serve on the senate agricultural committee in almost four decades, and it’s a responsibility that I not only honor but I take incredibly seriously. And for those three years, I have traveled all across our great state, I have met with our farmers in their communities, I have listened to their concerns, I understand their needs and the priorities. Now, New York is not home to the mega corporate farms. We’re home to small dairy farms, specialty crops, orchards and vineyards. And as we have been shaping and debating this farm bill, those are the farms, the small businesses that i have been fighting for. 

Now, I am very grateful that this bill will help our specialty crop growers by providing them with a dedicated funding stream as well as a better way to protect against disasters, and I’m also very proud of the good work with broadband investments to make sure that our rural communities have access to the internet. We also worked hard on trying — on trying to guarantee more transparency and accountability on how we price milk in this country. 

But we cannot forget that this bill is much more than a number of esoteric figures. What a farm bill is about, it’s about how we protect and create a growing economy for small businesses, agricultural businesses, the middle class and those families that are desperately trying to get there. The farm bill is about the health of the agricultural industry, it’s about the health of our families, with nutritious food that’s actually within reach of the children who need it. 

So as a mother, I am very concerned that this current farm bill cuts $4.5 billion from the supplemental nutrition assistance program. It’s the snap program, food stamps, as we know it. Over the next ten years. Now, I’m incredibly disappointed and even troubled that my republican colleagues are seeking to cut food stamps even more from those cuts. Now, under this bill, families in New York who are already struggling will lose $90 a month of food that goes onto their tables. Now, think of a month long of food for a family. It’s basically the last week a family will not have enough food to feed their children. Now, $90 a month may not seem like a lot of money to some people, but I can tell you if you are a parent who is trying to protect your children and feed them good, wholesome, nutritious foods, it means everything in the world. Now, i don’t know for any parent who is watching today whether you personally ever heard your child say mommy, I’m still hungry. Well, imagine not being able to help your child and feed your child. Imagine that your child says this every single day. That is what we are faced with here. 

I am heard stories from New Yorkers who never dreamed they would need food stamps in their lifetime, who never, never imagined that they would have no choice but to apply for this kind of federal assistance. I heard from one single mom in queens. She had a job in the supermarket but she still struggled to make ends meet. She broke down in tears one day when her son came home from school with his school lunch in his hand and said mommy, I brought this home for us for dinner, and I asked my friend for his sandwich. Another woman in Brooklyn, incredibly well educated, went to a prestigious university but lost her job. She said I never thought I would be asking for food stamps, but suddenly I was jobless, I didn’t know where my next meal would come from. Food stamps played a big role during make-or-break moments in my life. They’re not a handout. I worked all my life, I paid my taxes, and food stamps helped me get back on my feet again. As a mother, as a lawmaker, watching a child go hungry is something I will not stand for.

In this day and age, in a country as rich as America is, it is unacceptable and should not be tolerated and should certainly not be advocated for. I know that not every state in this country has as many as we have in New York. We have 20 million people in our great state. So with these cuts, it’s going to affect 300,000 families. Imagine 300,000 families in your state or any state going hungry at night. These kinds of cuts, they hurt children, they hurt families, they hurt seniors that are homebound, seniors that don’t know where their next meal is going to come from. We are asking these families, these 300,000 families to take a disproportionate amount of the burden. They were not the cause of the financial collapse. They were not the cause of this terrible economy, but we are asking them to bear the burden.

Now, we know food stamps are actually a very effective investment. For every dollar you put into the food stamp program, you get $1.71 of spending back into the economy. Mark Zandi, world-famous economist, says the fastest way to infuse money into the economy is by expanding snap and food stamps. This money pays the salary of grocery clerks, truckers bringing food to and from a store from the farm. The USDA estimates that 16 cents of every one of these food stamp dollars go right back to our farmers. And despite widespread myths and inaccuracies, there is so little fraud in the snap program, less than 1%. That’s a penny on a dollar. 

Now, I take our nation’s debt and deficit as seriously as anyone else in this chamber, and I applaud the chairwoman and the ranking member for being able to curb spending. But families who are living in poverty, who are just trying to figure out how to keep the lights on and put food on the table, they did not spend this nation into debt, and we should not be trying to balance the budget on their backs. Subsidies for large corporations that don’t need it, companies based in Bermuda, Australia, Switzerland, it’s not the right priority for America. We should be helping the most needy among us. Our children, our seniors, a family at risk. 

So today I’m introducing an amendment to restore the $4.5 billion in cuts because it’s the right thing to do. It’s the right thing to do for our families, our seniors, our kids. It’s the right thing to do for our economy. It invests $500 million over ten years in fresh fruits and fresh vegetables, a snap program which connects our kids to our farmers. It gives the authority to the secretary of agriculture to make additional purchases as part of the emergency food assistance program. It’s useful when we have all-time high rates of hunger and unemployment that put unbelievable demands onto these emergency feeding organizations, and to pay for these investments in our children’s health and health of the economy, my amendment makes a very modest reduction in government subsidies to some of the most highly profitable companies. My amendment lowers the subsidies to companies from billions per year to hundreds of millions per year. Anyone who argues that these companies will struggle from this shift needs to meet a family who is dependent on food stamps to feed their children. 

As I said earlier, this farm bill, like all legislation, it’s about our priorities. It’s a reflection of our values. So I’m asking my colleagues let’s agree that children deserve healthy meals so they can live healthy lives, so they can learn, so they can grow, so they can reach their God-given potential. Let’s agree that it’s a worthwhile investment in our future to make sure that children do not go hungry in this country.