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Mr. THOMPSON of Pennsylvania. Madam Speaker, last month, the Agriculture Committee welcomed Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Deputy Under Secretary Stacy Dean to a long-overdue hearing.
Until last month, the agency of the United States Department of Agriculture that occupies more than 80 percent of the Agriculture Committee's spending had gone unchecked for nearly 4 years.
Each section of title IV, the nutrition title, of the 2018 farm bill made nominal changes to a program that has since exploded to serve more than 42 million individuals, at a current cost of roughly $9 billion per month.
Now, we need to contemplate SNAP through four principles, particularly as we shift from emergency spending and administration to more targeted and informed programming.
First, we need to further explore how to serve recipients through innovation and flexibility. If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it is there is no one way to serve families in need.
Second, we must think about the best ways to guide recipients to independence through employment, education, and training. While waivers related to work under the former administration were logical, they are now clearly keeping employable individuals idle and disengaged. It is time to talk about reemployment, with a specific focus on those who have left the labor force.
The third principle: We cannot deny program integrity has been compromised. I want to work with the Department to return to and maintain the virtues of SNAP. This includes normal modes of data collection and normal modes of analysis and dissemination of information to ensure the responsible use of program funds.
Last, and perhaps most importantly, we must come together to improve access and promote healthy foods and improved nutrition. Employment, healthcare costs, and general longevity are highly dependent on the foods that we consume. Together with modernized nutrition education initiatives, the nutrition research funding secured in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, and the existing library of research on healthy eating, USDA is uniquely positioned to improve the nutrition of millions of households, not just those deemed healthy.
I think my colleagues across the aisle can agree with each of these four principles. Where we diverge is how to preserve the program for those in actual need, without regulatory loopholes and fuzzy interpretations of the law, both of which exploit the very intent of the program. Where we diverge is the reality that this one title will cost taxpayers nearly $1 trillion over the next 10 years.
With this exorbitant spending increase--namely, because of the less- than-transparent and questionable Thrifty Food Plan update--the Biden administration and the current majority consciously put a colossal financial and political target on any future farm bill, compromising not only the nutrition title but the 11 other titles which support and protect every farmer, every rancher, and every forester, and rural community.
While my colleagues and I will continue to debate this attempt at executive overreach, I asked one thing of Madam Deputy Under Secretary and, frankly, the whole Department, USDA: Be more forthcoming. As the ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, I prefer to learn directly from the administration, not from lobbyists, not from reporters, not from the internet.
More recently, the White House announced a conference on hunger, nutrition, and health in September. Now, this could change how we think about health and nutrition, including in the farm bill, but it must be nonpartisan and engage community leaders nationwide. This should be a platform for innovation, objective research, and local approaches.
That hearing should be the first of many that allows the Agriculture Committee to have an honest conversation about what is working and what is not and how we move forward toward the 2023 farm bill.
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