On May 7, 2014 Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts asked for and was granted permission to address the United States House of Representatives for a few minutes regarding the issue of hunger in America:
“Mr. Speaker, I have come to this floor once a week during the 113th Congress to talk about hunger–specifically, how we can end hunger now if we simply muster the political will to do so.
Technically identified as food insecure by the Department of Agriculture, there are nearly 50 million hungry people who live in the United States, the richest country in the history of the world. These people don’t earn enough to be able to put food on their table. Simply, they don’t know where their next meal will come from.
Now, let’s be clear. This has not been a particularly kind Congress to those who struggle with hunger. We are seeing nearly $20 billion cut from our Nation’s preeminent anti-hunger program, known as SNAP.
SNAP is a lifeline for the 46 million Americans who rely on it to have something to eat each day. Yet this Congress decided that Americans who live at or below the poverty line can simply absorb massive cuts to SNAP.
Sadly, Republicans and some Democrats joined together to cut a benefit that was already meager and didn’t last through the month even before these cuts took effect.
These cuts are bad and hurtful, but just as hurtful is how these Americans were described and depicted on the floor of this House during the debate about cuts to SNAP. During the debate on the farm bill, some Republican Members came to the floor to justify cuts to SNAP as a way to prevent murderers, rapists, and pedophiles from getting a government benefit.
Poor people have been routinely characterized as “those people,” as part of a culture of dependency. They have been described as “lazy.”
Mr. Speaker, I am sick and tired of poor people being demonized. I am sick and tired of their struggle being belittled. We are here to represent all people, including those struggling in poverty.
Unfortunately, insults continue.
For the most part, we try to keep campaign rhetoric out of the debate on the House floor. However, today I want to highlight some rhetoric that is even more vile than even some of the language that was used on the House floor during the SNAP debate.
A few weeks ago, a Republican candidate for United States Senate in South Dakota actually equated SNAP recipients to wild animals. That’s right. We are now at a point where it is apparently okay for political candidates to denigrate our fellow citizens by comparing them to animals.
Dr. Annette Bosworth shared a viral image on her Facebook page that said the following:
The food stamp program is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They proudly report that they distribute free meals and food stamps to over 46 million people on an annual basis. Meanwhile, the National Park Service, run by the U.S. Department of the Interior, asks us, Please do not feed the animals. Their stated reason for this policy being that ….. the animals will grow dependent on the handouts, and then they will never learn to take care of themselves.
The post continues:
This concludes today’s lesson. Any questions?
What an incredibly offensive thing for anybody to say.
Mr. Speaker, I was taught to love my neighbor. I was taught to care about the people and to strive to make everyone’s life better, and what is being tolerated as political dialogue violates those teachings and my core beliefs in humanity.
We can all do better. Some of us may need a hand up in order to get by, but that doesn’t mean that they are lesser people for it. They deserve our respect, and they deserve our help while they are struggling.
It is hard to be poor, and because of many of the actions that have been taken by this Congress, it is even harder to get out of poverty.
Dr. Bosworth should apologize to the 46 million of her fellow Americans who need SNAP to put food on their tables. She should apologize to the nearly 50 million of her fellow Americans who struggle with hunger and don’t know where their next meal will come from, and Republicans should repudiate her disgusting remarks.
I am an optimist. I believe we can end hunger, and I believe we can end poverty in America, if we just make the commitment to do so, but hurtful rhetoric like this simply divides us and does nothing to help us achieve the worthy goal of ending hunger now.
Hunger is a political condition. We have the food, and we have the ability to make certain that nobody in this country goes hungry, but we lack the political will; and demonizing the poor, as so many in this Chamber have done and continue to do so, is a sad commentary on this Congress.
Our government has a special obligation to the most vulnerable. It is time we lived up to that obligation. The war against the poor must stop”, said McGovern (source: Congressional Record http://thomas.loc.gov/ ).
Currently serving his ninth term in Congress, McGovern serves as the second ranking Democrat on the powerful House Rules Committee, which sets the terms for debate and amendments on most legislation; and a member of the House Agriculture Committee. In those roles, McGovern has secured millions of dollars in federal grants and assistance for Massachusetts. McGovern is also co-chair of both the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and the House Hunger Caucus. He also serves as Co-Chair of the Northeast Midwest Congressional Coalition.