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Ranking Member Cole Remarks During Hearing on Hunger Issues in America

As prepared for delivery during today’s House Rules Committee hearing entitled “Ending Hunger in America: Challenges, Opportunities, and Building the Political Will to Succeed.”

I am pleased to be part of today’s discussion on a critical topic that faces far too many in our country. Despite the fact that our country is the most prosperous nation on the planet, far too many of our fellow citizens continue to face the heartbreaking challenge of hunger. 

In my home state of Oklahoma, it is estimated that one in five children still do not get the nutrition they need to grow up happy and healthy. Moreover, Native Americans nationwide are literally four times as likely to report experiencing food insecurity compared to the rest of the U.S. population. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has made this problem even worse, particularly for those who are out of work or who cannot leave their homes. 

But while it is easy to identify the challenge, addressing the complex root causes of food insecurity and poverty remain elusive, even for members of Congress. The answer is clearly not just increasing funding to existing programs, but modernizing programs to meet the current challenges that those in poverty face. We must view this problem holistically and approach our solutions the same way. According to research done by our colleagues at the Ways and Means Committee, low-income individuals are eligible for more than 80 different programs – all of which are siloed to provide a specific benefit – at a cost to the federal government of well over $1 trillion a year. I think the answer lies in a theory put forward in the 14th century by logician and theologian William of Ockham: “The simplest solution is almost always the best.”

In addressing the issues of food insecurity and poverty, I think it is critical that we approach it with three goals in mind: 

One: Supporting effective programs. With more than 80 programs on the federal level designed to address poverty, policymakers need to know which ones are effective – and which ones should be redesigned to become more effective or even consolidated.

Two: Addressing the income cliff. During my terms on the House Budget Committee, we dove into this issue a lot. Unfortunately, the way many of our programs are structured, there is no way for people to transition off of public assistance programs. They reach a certain income level and all of a sudden, their benefits are gone. And so people make the rational choice – when given the option to work more hours, they choose not to, because they become worse off as a whole. That’s something that we should clearly be working on and remedying. 

And three: Working with the private sector. There is clearly a role for non-profits and religious organizations in addressing the issue of poverty that must be encouraged by the federal government. Groups like the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, that provided more than 47 million meals in 2020 with almost 1,400 partner agencies, must be part of the equation. 

I want to thank our witnesses for appearing before the committee today. I look forward to hearing their testimony and perspectives. And I look forward to continuing to examine this critical issue and potential solutions in the weeks and months to come. And particularly, Mr. Chairman, I look forward to working with you on a problem that is genuinely bipartisan. And, as you pointed out in your opening remarks, we have worthy predecessors in Senator McGovern and Senator Dole, who showed us that working together, we can make considerable progress. I look forward to being your working partner in this endeavor. 


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