Opening Statement: Chairman K. Michael Conaway Joint Hearing with Ways & Means on the Past, Present, and Future of SNAP: How Our Welfare System Can Discourage Work

Jun 25, 2015

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

Thank you to Chairman Ryan and his Committee for hosting the first joint hearing between our two committees as we explore how our welfare system can discourage work. It’s surprising that our Committees have not engaged formally before given the overlap in our recipient populations.

According to the most recent SNAP characteristics report:

•           20 percent of SNAP recipients also receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI),

•           24 percent receive some form of Social Security income,

•           9 percent receive Child Support Enforcement payments,

•           7 percent received support from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF, and

•           4 percent received Unemployment Income.

While today’s hearing is about work, the level of overlap suggestions this is only the beginning of our efforts to better coordinate programs across committees of jurisdiction.

Throughout our top-to-bottom review of the Past, Present, and Future of SNAP, we have had an eye towards strengthening the program so that it doesn’t become a trap but rather a tool to help individuals move up the economic ladder. We have included a number of former recipients and front-line, non-governmental organizations who, we now know, are succeeding despite our welfare system.

Our hearing series has shown us that SNAP does not operate in a vacuum, and it plays an important role in the lives of nearly 46 million individuals. This is why hearings like today are important; recipients don’t think in terms of programs. While we do, it is our responsibility to look beyond our programs to understand the experience of the recipient and potential unintended consequences.

During our last hearing, we heard from practitioners about how they engage individuals to help them succeed in the workforce. We quickly encountered the reality of the “cliff effect” when programs designed to support work, do just the opposite. 

There is great dignity that comes from being able to provide financially for one’s own family, but that feeling can easily be overrun when our welfare system creates a situation where earnings do not necessarily translate to higher total income. This is not a problem that can be addressed by SNAP alone; it is going to take a coordinated effort.

Thank you again for hosting this important joint hearing, and I look forward to working with Chairman Ryan and other Committee Chairmen to ensure our welfare system is prepared to address current and future challenges.

We know that work is the best way to help individuals climb the economic ladder, and we must ensure that our policies reward that work. I look forward to hearing more about this from our panel today and thank them for being here.