Klobuchar: “In these times of uncertainty and with rising food insecurity, we need to work to ensure that the nutrition needs of our most vulnerable citizens are met”
Hunger crisis in Minnesota is expected to worsen as the number of residents in need of food assistance surges to levels not seen since the Great Depression
WASHINGTON — On the Senate Floor, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) called on colleagues to support additional funding for nutrition programs during the coronavirus pandemic, including for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). According to recent reports, the hunger crisis in Minnesota is expected to worsen in the coming months, as the number of residents in need of food assistance surges to levels not seen since the Great Depression.
“At this difficult time we should ensure we are giving assistance to all of those who need it, not put up new barriers,” Klobuchar said in her remarks.
“In these times of uncertainty and with rising food insecurity, we need to work to ensure that the nutrition needs of our most vulnerable citizens are met.”
Transcript of remarks as delivered below and video available HERE.
Mr. President. Thank you. I want to thank the senator from Michigan for her leadership on the agriculture committee, helping to pass, leading the last farm bill in the Senate, along with Senator Roberts, and so many of us who are on that committee.
We understand that rural America is hurting right now and rural America is actually part of the solution as well for so many people who are hungry and who need help. This pandemic and its economic impact has left 41 million Americans unemployed and strained the financial security of hundreds of thousands of families across this country. I've always worked to ensure from the minute I got on the ag committee that we focus on nutrition and programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or as it's known, SNAP, are the place to do this, to provide meaningful relief to families, children, senior citizens, veterans, people all over this country, people who never thought they would be out of a job, people who used to and I heard this story in Minnesota, volunteer in food banks and now they are standing in lines in food banks because they unexpectedly lost their jobs.
Many of us have seen this. I have visited these food banks. Even before the pandemic, more than 37 million people, including more than 11 million children were living in a food-secure household. Analysts released by the national nonprofit Feeding America in April projected these numbers to increase to more than 54 million people, including 18 million children. The 350 food shelves in my state -- operated by Second Harvest Heartland have seen double or triple the number of visitors. So this weekend on Sunday when I visited one of our biggest food shelves, Second Harvest Heartland, with the director, Allison O'Toole, the number of people who are working there around the clock, they just released a study. And what the study said was before the pandemic, one in 11 Minnesotans were living with hunger. Now what they project for August, only a little over a month from now, one in eight Minnesotans will be food insecure. One in eight. And they said tracking our state's history back to the Great Depression, they have never seen anything like this since the Great Depression, not even the economic downturn ten years ago, not the ups and downs in unemployment that we've seen in our world, the farm crisis, up in northern Minnesota, nothing like they are projecting to happen.
July begins with the fourth of July. The fourth of July is when we celebrate our country. We celebrate what America means. Well, my hope is that we end July by actually passing the HEROES Act. I know we're going to negotiate it, colleagues. I know we'll make changes over what passed in the House, but we cannot let our states go bankrupt. We must help local areas. I was on the phone today with friends in the Fargo Moorhead area and we've seen it there too. We've seen it all over our state.
The SNAP program was originally designed to respond to changes in the economy by expanding to meet increased need during economic downturns and contracting as economic recovery alleviates a need for food assistance. Under the farm bill that was signed into law under Senator Stabenow's leadership in 2018, we preserved this critical lifeline. This conference report which passed with 80 votes in the Senate and 369 votes in the House of Representatives avoided making cuts to benefits or changes to eligibility that would take away benefits or create obstacles.
At this difficult time we should ensure we are giving assistance to all of those who need it, not put up new barriers, not what we're seeing with more COVID cases in the southern part of this country, in the western part of this country. In fact, the facts and the numbers bear out that we should be increasing those benefits. The House has taken action to do just that by passing a 15% increase in SNAP benefits during the pandemic. That's what they did in the HEROEs Act. That's what we should do here.
At the same time, the middle of a pandemic is the wrong time to be cutting SNAP benefits or kicking participants out of the program, and that's why I’ve called on the Administration to withdraw rules that would take these benefits away from families in need. Food deserts, and again the pandemic has simply put a big fat magnifying glass on a problem that already existed and that is that 23.5 million Americans live in a food desert where the absence of a grocery store within one mile of their home makes it more difficult to purchase fresh, nutritious food. Low income Americans, people of color, much more likely to live in food deserts, and people in rural areas live in these food deserts all over America. That's why Senator Brown and I wrote a letter with 20 senators urging the Department of Agriculture to prioritize these programs intended to minimize food deserts and support local and regional efforts for these projects.
We cannot overlook the capacity needs of food shelves, and that's something I talked about with our friends at Second Harvest Heartland just this weekend. The Work Now Act is something that I appreciate Senator Wyden is here, one of the cosponsors, along with Senator Brown, Senator Schatz, to support nonprofit organizations, to make it easier for them to hire people who are actually out of work who can then help other people. It's why I joined Senator Stabenow and several of my colleagues in the agriculture committee in introducing the Food Supply Protection Act to help food banks increase their capacity and strengthen partnerships to prevent food waste while feeding more families.
It was one of my predecessors, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, whose desk I stand in front of today, his name is carved in the desk. He served on the agriculture committee, he grew up in a small town in South Dakota and became a professor eventually, but in a farm that was a family -- that was a pharmacist -- and he understood the importance of growing up in that family, seeing the ups and downs of rural America. He understood the importance of stable government policy for both agriculture producers and families struggling to put food on the table. He was a leading advocate of federal food nutrition programs and paid an instrumental role in the passage of what was then called the Food Stamp Act of 1964 which turned what was then just a pilot program into the permanent program we know today. He knew that the moral test of government is how government treats its most vulnerable citizens, those in need, those who are seniors, those with disabilities. He once said this, we will be remembered not for the power of our weapons but for the power of our compassion, our dedication to human welfare. In these times of uncertainty and with rising food insecurity, we need to work to ensure that the nutrition needs of our most vulnerable citizens are met.
Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.