In the News

Written by Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL)

The month of April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a time that brings much-needed attention to the challenges we still face as a nation in keeping our moms, sisters, daughters, friends and neighbors safe. As the father of four daughters myself, I am personally invested in finding solutions that protect women from the threat of physical violence and sexual assault in America.

Recently, I had the honor of meeting a true champion in America’s fight against violent crime. Tallahassee resident Pat Tuthill lost her 23-year old daughter, Peyton, in 1999 when she was sexually assaulted and brutally murdered by a convicted criminal on unsupervised probation. Three months after her daughter’s death, Tuthill quit her job and traveled the country lobbying policymakers to support legislation that strengthens monitoring and supervision of criminals on parole and probation.

Last year, Tuthill’s dream became a reality with the implementation of the first National Automated Standardized Victim Notification System. Her tireless efforts have earned her the U.S. Department of Justice’s Ronald Wilson Reagan Public Policy Award.

At a time when some in Washington are content with participating in nonstop political bickering, I believe Tuthill’s courageous story and commitment to serving others are reminders of the good things that can be accomplished when we fight for what is right, a fight that must continue in the halls of Congress today.

In the 113th Congress, I am proud to have voted for a five-year extension of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which includes measures to reduce rape kit backlogs, strengthen penalties for assault and improve the federal stalking statute.

I also have fought to reverse the alarming trend of sexual assaults in the military by supporting legislation to require automatic discharge of service members who have been convicted of sexual assault, as well as removing a military commander’s ability to dismiss convictions of sexual assault. We should have zero tolerance for sexual assault in the United States military, and I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress to ensure our brave service members are protected during their service to our nation.

Another area of concern where Republican and Democrats can come together is in combating human trafficking. Each year, millions of people around the world are subjected to human trafficking — many of whom are women and children here in the United States. As a man of faith and a concerned father, I refuse to stand by while millions of children are put at risk of being abused and exploited through human trafficking. That’s why I cosponsored the Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Human Trafficking Act, which will provide child welfare systems with the tools necessary to identify and counsel trafficking victims. I also sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder urging that he take immediate action to combat human trafficking by closing down online facilitators of sex trafficking.

There are some things in Washington that simply should not be politicized. When Pat Tuthill started her journey of service 15 years ago, she didn’t do so to score political points. She wanted to make a difference. That’s the kind of example we can all strive to live by.

Written by Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL)

When President Johnson launched America’s War on Poverty in 1964, he did so with an expectation that all Americans could one day fulfill their “hopes for a fair chance to make good.” Fifty years later, that chance remains out of reach for far too many vulnerable families here in North Florida and across America.

The facts are sobering. More than 46.5 million Americans live in poverty — more than at any time in our nation’s history. Nearly half of all households headed by a single mother sit below the poverty line. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 57,000 Leon County residents live in poverty. More than a quarter of the people living in Gadsden and Franklin counties face a similar struggle. Clearly, the ideas of the past are not working.

We need to recognize that we can’t lift families out of poverty by simply increasing line items on a federal balance sheet. Bigger government is not yielding better results. In fact, it only makes it harder to climb off of government assistance. We must start looking at the root causes of poverty: the absence of strong, two-parent households, dwindling opportunities for a good education, and the inability to find a steady job. We need to cut through the partisan bickering to improve conditions for job growth and expand educational prospects for students eager to learn in a safe, productive environment.

My parents taught me long ago in the parlor of Southerland Family Funeral Homes that you can’t begin to help vulnerable families until you’re ready to climb down in their hurt with them. That’s why public service has always been about more to me than faceless budget sheets. It’s about putting partnerships above partisanship — without sacrificing principles — in an effort to find real solutions.

Nowhere is that kind of thinking more necessary than in determining how we combat poverty. As the chairman of the House Republicans’ Anti-Poverty Initiative, I am taking a leading role in connecting Congress with community relief organizations and families in need across the country. In Tallahassee, I’ve visited The Shelter and the Renaissance Community Center to learn more about how dedicated volunteers on the ground are fighting poverty day in and day out. Regardless of how many committee hearings I attend, memos I read or lectures I hear, nothing can replace face-to-face interaction with those we aim to help.

The recently approved 2014 Farm Bill shows the good that can come out of both parties putting politics aside to get things done. As the lone member of Congress from Florida appointed to the conference committee tasked with ironing out the final version of the Farm Bill, I was particularly pleased that Republicans and Democrats came together to support a provision I introduced empowering vulnerable people with a renewed opportunity for earned success.

By including a 10-state pilot program for work, job training and community volunteerism for healthy, working-age recipients of nutrition assistance, we’ve put the program on the same proven path of success that Democratic President Bill Clinton and Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich charted during welfare reform in the 1990s.

When either side tries to tackle an issue as critical as fighting poverty, it’s impossible to avoid honest disagreements over policy. However, I’ve worked hard to continue a conversation with members on the other side of the aisle who care about this issue as much as I do. By meeting with members such as Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., the co-chair of the House Hunger Caucus, we’re better able to understand our differences and seek new opportunities to work together. It might not be a fix-all, but in today’s Washington, it’s certainly a start.

By Deborah Buckhalter / Jackson County Floridan

As U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland makes the rounds in his district during a break in the action in Washington, D.C., he visited with a local farmer last week, and on Monday morning stopped in to talk with and take questions from 9-12th graders at Marianna High School about government and civics. He then attended a meeting of the Altrusa civic club in Marianna, serving as guest speaker for the session.

Southerland told that group he had been impressed with the local students’ questions and with their knowledge about the issues coming into the school session. H e then turned his attention to a variety of subjects related to the most recent legislation coming out of Washington, including the Farm Bill.

He said he was excited about the Building Rural Communities Act which sets aside a program for use in helping rural communities navigate the application process as they try to access grants that help them improve essential services, like fire protection, stormwater management systems and other infrastructure. The program will help them pay professionals to assist in the associated paperwork and other aspects of grant tries.

He also talked about his support of food assistance reforms that make it possible for states to require able-bodied recipients to work part time, train for job skills or volunteer in order to receive those supplements.

He spoke, too, about the nation’s new health care initiative, saying he is “not a fan” of the health care act, because, he said, “ it creates a whole new category of part-time workers” and also penalizes people for not getting mandatory insurance coverage.

Southerland said he felt national policies should be ones that strengthen individuals’ incentive for working full time in meaningful jobs, makes tools available to help them train for such positions, those which support the structure of the traditional family unit, of parental involvement in their children’s educations, and which ensure that children don’t go hungry or lacking in basic health care.

Southerland also talked briefly in rebuttal regarding a letter to the editor which appeared in the Floridan last Sunday, saying that the writer of the letter spoke in error when he indicated that a certain television ad now running frequently with a negative message about the health care act was one of Southerland’s. The Congressman said that, if the author of the letter had checked his facts properly, he would have seen that the ad was not his, but one put forward by an outside group and one that he knew nothing about.

By Rep. Steve Southerland (R-North Florida)

Special to The Star

With partisan gridlock all too prevalent in today’s Washington, I have worked hard to break through those barriers and join with Republicans and Democrats who are as interested as I am in growing jobs and restoring certainty for hardworking families. The recently-passed Farm Bill is an example of what can be accomplished by putting partnership above partisanship.

For more than a year Congress debated the latest reauthorization of the Farm Bill, which sets national agriculture and food policy for the next five years. With Florida being a national leader in agricultural production and the second largest specialty crop-producing state in America, I was committed to doing all I could to advance a common sense Farm Bill that restored certainty for North and Northwest Florida farmers and strengthened our rural communities.

I was honored to be the only Floridian in Congress appointed to the bipartisan conference committee tasked with ironing out the final Farm Bill agreement. It was a tremendous, hard-earned victory when both parties and both chambers came together for the good of the American people and passed a five-year Farm Bill that provides much-needed relief to our hardworking farming families and saves taxpayers $23 billion – while allowing us to finally move past the costly, big government policies passed under then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Farm Bill six years ago.

I am also pleased that Republicans and Democrats came together to support a provision in the Farm Bill I introduced to empower vulnerable families with a renewed opportunity for earned success. By including a 10-state pilot program for work, job training, and community volunteerism for healthy, working age food stamp beneficiaries, we’ve now put nutrition assistance on the same proven path of success that helped change a culture for the better during welfare reform in the 1990s. As the first reforms to the food stamp program since the successful welfare reforms of 1996, the Farm Bill takes important steps to empower families in need with a renewed opportunity at earned success.

Additionally, the Farm Bill includes several provisions I crafted to sustain the economies of our rural communities. The bipartisan Building Rural Communities Act ensures that small, rural areas have access to the technical assistance and training necessary to enhance vital infrastructure – including police and fire stations and community health clinics – all at no additional cost to America’s taxpayers. Another provision I advanced strengthens our forestry communities by ensuring that wood products qualify under the USDA’s Biobased Marketing Program. I also fought to guarantee the long-term viability of citrus production in Florida by helping secure $125 million to research remedies for citrus greening, a disease decimating citrus groves in Florida and nationwide.

Updating the Farm Bill is never easy, but this bill represents the good that can come out of both parties and both chambers rising above politics to do what is right for the American people. Our farmers and rural families deserve real solutions – not political mud fights – and this bipartisan Farm Bill is a big step in the right direction.

Written by Mark Hohmeister (Tallahassee Democrat)

A lunchtime meeting between Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislative Black Caucus probably isn’t the best place to discover agreement on some of the issues that affect our state.

The governor got off on the wrong foot when, after he’d been in office just a little over a month, he told black legislators: “I grew up probably in the same situation as you guys. I started school in public housing. My dad had a sixth-grade education.” They didn’t appreciate the assumption that, because they were black, they’d lived in the projects with uneducated parents.

Since then, the caucus has battled Scott on support for historically black colleges, voter purges, minority contracts, unemployment benefits, health care for the poor, diversity in appointments, felons’ voting rights … I’ll stop now or run out of space.

Still, it was disappointing when on Wednesday state Rep. Alan Williams, a Democrat from Tallahassee and chair of the caucus, called off a scheduled meeting with the governor. “Based on your lack of action on matters of importance to this caucus that we have brought to your attention at prior meetings,” Williams wrote to Scott, “we believe another meeting at this time would be fruitless.”

Is human contact ever fruitless?

Maintaining a conversation is a theme of these Opinion pages. It’s why we welcome many points of view, why we try not to cut off any side in a debate, be it over a hot local issue or global climate change.

On a recent visit with the Editorial Board, Steve Southerland told a touching story.

Southerland, a Republican who represents Tallahassee in Congress, agreed to let a Washington Post reporter shadow him from the capital to his home in Panama City. Fellow Republicans told him he was nuts. The result was a feature story in the Post, published in September.

In a scene at the end of the story, Southerland, his oldest daughter, Samantha, and a few others were having dinner, and Southerland was explaining the shallowness of Washington. He told Samantha how he had worked hard to dig into the issue of food stamps and become a point person on food-stamp policy, but how this liberal from Massachusetts, Jim McGovern, had rallied opposition to Southerland’s proposal.

Grudgingly, Southerland acknowledged that McGovern might be the only person in Congress who had studied the issue as deeply as he had.

“What does he say about all of this to you?” Samantha asked.

“I don’t know,” Southerland told her. “I haven’t talked to him.”

Samantha erupted.

This wasn’t the father she knew. As Southerland later reminded the Democrat’s Editorial Board, he’s a funeral director. He has sat across the table from five siblings who hate each other, with his objective being that their mother receive a decent burial. Yet he hadn’t even talked with McGovern.

He tried to explain to his daughter that the gulf was too wide, holding two water glasses at arm’s length. “So now I’m here and they’re way over there,” he said. “We can barely see each other. We can’t solve anything like this.”

The Post profile ended there. But that wasn’t the end of the story.

Southerland promised his daughter that he and McGovern would talk. So he walked over to Rep. McGovern on the House floor and apologized. McGovern, who had read the Post profile, recalled, “I was going to say something to him. He took the initiative and beat me to the punch.”

They ended up having a long dinner, talking about family, business — and food stamps. They’ve talked since and even have acknowledged a common goal: To help vulnerable people get to a point of self-sustainability.

Now this isn’t a fairy tale.

It’s unlikely that Southerland, who often finds the words “tea party” attached to his name in news stories, and McGovern, who has been called the most liberal member of the House, will suddenly sponsor a food stamp bill and then join hands and sing “Kumbaya.”

Still, McGovern said, “He’s a guy who I could potentially do business with.” Odd alliances do occur. Consider Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan and Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray negotiating a budget agreement. Or tea party types and liberals working for flexibility in sentencing guidelines.

McGovern, who was an intern in the days of Tip O’Neill, misses a time when members socialized more and the process wasn’t so closed and controlled by leadership.

Two things can happen when people refuse to talk: Nothing gets done. Or, if something does get done, it is pushed through with no consideration of oposing views. “There ought to be more dinners, breakfasts, lunches, coffees, interactions between everybody,” McGovern said.

I’m sure the get-togethers with Gov. Scott and the Black Caucus are frustrating for both sides. And no, I don’t know how we can narrow the gulf in politics today.

I do know that, if people stop talking, it will only grow wider.

Written by Bill Cotterell (Tallahassee Democrat)

President Obama’s sputtering national health care plan “looms large” in the 2014 congressional races, U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland said Thursday.

Southerland, a Panama City Republican targeted by the Democratic Party in his Big Bend district, also said the bad public image of Congress hurts him personally as well as politically. In a wide-ranging interview with the Tallahassee Democrat editorial board on Thursday, Southerland said he has avoided labeling in Washington — even turning down national TV interviews when asked to represent the Tea Party point of view — and has lately started reaching out to liberal Democrats in Congress.

“This is a city that’s a mile wide and an inch deep,” Southerland mused. “We run so fast, we run right past each other.”

As the GOP point person on food-stamp legislation, Southerland said he failed to even consult Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., the leading House Democrat on the issue. When his daughter pointed out that he and McGovern had not had so much as a phone call, Southerland said he made a point of looking him up on the House floor and arranging a dinner meeting in which they talked mainly about their families and careers — not politics.

Similarly, he said, he recently hosted a reception at his Washington apartment for members of the Congressional black caucus — “no staff, no media” — along with a dozen Republicans, just to get acquainted.

“In Congress, you will have a government of 535 individuals and probably 15,000 different sets of values,” he said. “The trouble is that all 535 were class presidents. They’ve all been told how smart they are, so they are not good at listening.”

Southerland’s bid for a third term in the House has been challenged by Gwen Graham, the daughter of U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, who has been aggressively depicting Southerland as part of the problem with congressional gridlock.

He said the low public esteem for Congress is discouraging, but something incumbents just have to run with.

“Who doesn’t want to be approved? That’s natural,” said Southerland.

The Bay County funeral home owner beat former Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Monticello, in 2010 in the Tea Party “wave” election. Boyd had voted against the national health care plan initially in the House, then supported the revised version that came back from the Senate. Southerland has consistently voted with the Republicans who control the House, against the health care plan.

The botched rollout of the sign-up system, along with controversy over delays in coverage mandates and some exemptions, has made the health care plan politically painful for Democrats. Obama’s failed promise that citizens could keep their old insurance, and see their current doctors, has driven his approval numbers to record lows in some polls — causing some congressional Democrats to distance themselves.

“It looms large,” Southerland said of his race with Graham. “The party that ushered the bill in and the party that fought against it are the parties we belong to.”

After the system kicks in next year, he predicted “you’re going start seeing restricted access” to doctors and hospitals, so “I just don’t think that’s going to bode well for those who are speaking for it.”

Southerland said 53 percent of Americans in one recent poll favored total repeal of the system. He said Obama has “lost the under-30 voters” who were crucial to his 2008 election.

But Republicans have to counter with their own plan, he said. Southerland said health care replacement legislation will be a topic at the GOP congressional retreat next month.

“We can’t just fight and say no,” he said. “We’ve got to provide a solution, a positive solution that provides access and is fair.”

WASHINGTON — It's been 17 years since the federal government last faced a partial shutdown because Congress and the president couldn't agree on a spending bill. A lot has changed in that time, leaving federal employees, citizens and even government decision-makers confused about what a shutdown would mean.

Every shutdown is different. The politics that cause them are different. Because of technology and structural overhauls, the way the government functions has changed since 1996. Much of what will happen is unknown.

Here's what we do know about Tuesday's looming shutdown:

THE BASICS

1. What causes a shutdown? Under the Constitution, Congress must pass laws to spend money. If Congress can't agree on a spending bill — or if, in the case of the Clinton-era shutdowns, the president vetoes it — the government does not have the legal authority to spend money.

2. What's a continuing resolution? Congress used to spend money by passing a budget first, then 12 separate appropriations bills. That process has broken down, and Congress uses a stopgap continuing resolution, or CR, that maintains spending at current levels for all or part of the year.

3. Why can't Congress agree? The Republican-controlled House has passed a spending bill that maintains spending levels but does not provide funding to implement the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. The Democratic Senate insists that the program be fully funded and that Congress pass what they call a "clean" CR.

4. What is a "clean" CR? A continuing resolution without policy changes.

5. Why is this happening now? The government runs on a fiscal year from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. Shutdowns can happen at other times of the year when Congress passes a partial-year spending bill.

6. Could government agencies ignore the shutdown? Under a federal law known as the Anti-Deficiency Act, it can be a felony to spend taxpayer money without an appropriation from Congress.

7. When would a shutdown begin? When the fiscal year ends at midnight Monday. Most federal workers would report to work Tuesday, but unless they're deemed "essential," they would work no more than four hours on shutdown-related activities before being furloughed.

8. When would the shutdown end? Immediately after the president signs a spending bill. As a practical matter, it could be noon the following day before most government offices that were shut down would reopen their doors.

9. How many times has the government shut down in the past? Since 1977, there have been 17 shutdowns, according to the Congressional Research Service.

10. How long do shutdowns usually last? Most last no more than three days. Some last less than a day.

11. When was the longest shutdown in history? The longest was also the most recent: from Dec. 16, 1995, through Jan. 5, 1996. That's 21 days.

12. Would this shutdown be different from those in the 1990s? Yes. When the 1995 shutdown started, Congress had already passed three of 13 appropriations bills. (They funded military construction, agriculture, and energy and water projects.) Also, more government services are automated.

THE DEBT LIMIT

13. What's the difference between a shutdown and a debt crisis? In a shutdown, the government lacks the legal authority to spend money on non-essential services. In a debt crisis, the government is mandated to spend money — but doesn't have the legal authority to borrow the money to spend it.

14. Are the two related? Only by timing, which is somewhat coincidental.

15. When will the government run out of borrowing authority? Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew says it could come as soon as Oct. 17.

16. Has the United States ever defaulted on its debt before? No.

17. If the nation hits the debt limit, will government shut down? That's a big unknown question. The Treasury Department has said the most likely scenario is that it would delay payments, paying only those bills it can afford, using daily tax revenue.

GOVERNMENT SERVICES

18. Will I still get my mail? Yes. The U.S. Postal Service functions as an independent business unit.

19. Can I get a passport? Maybe, but hurry. The Department of State says it has some funds outside the annual congressional appropriation. "Consular operations domestically and overseas will remain 100% operational as long as there are sufficient fees to support operations," the department says.

20. Can I visit national parks? No. The National Park Service says day visitors will be told to leave immediately, and entrances will be closed.

21. What about campers already in the parks? They will be given two days to leave.

22. Will Washington museums be open? The Smithsonian, the National Zoo and the Holocaust Museum would all be closed. Private museums, such as the Newseum, the Spy Museum and Mount Vernon, would remain open. Rule of thumb: If it's usually free, it's probably closed.

23. What about the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts? The Kennedy Center does receive an annual appropriation from Congress, but also runs on ticket revenue and endowment funds. The center expects to stay open through a shutdown.

24. What about the National Archives? All archives and most presidential libraries will be closed, unless they're operated by a private foundation — as all pre-Herbert Hoover presidential museums are. The Federal Records Center Program, which supports other agencies, would continue to operate because it uses a revolving fund.

25. Will the District of Columbia shut down? The district does not have complete autonomy and relies on an appropriation from Congress to operate. So during the shutdowns in the 1990s, trash went uncollected, and many city departments closed. In a departure from past shutdowns, Mayor Vincent Gray has informed the Office of Management and Budget that he has deemed all city employees "essential." The district's own attorney general has declared the mayor's plan illegal.

26. Will the Patent and Trademark Office be open? Yes. The office can continue to operate off user fees and other funds for at least four weeks before having to shut down.

27. Would food safety inspections continue? Mostly. The Food Safety and Inspection Service would continue all safety-related activities. The Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration would continue inspections to the extent they're paid by user fees, "but inability to investigate alleged violations could hamper corrective action in the long term and could have an immediate impact on members of industry." The Food and Drug Administration would limit its activities but continue to monitor recalls and conduct investigations.

28. Will the government still release economic data? Probably. The weekly unemployment claims number would still come out, and the September jobs report, due out Friday, probably will, too. The Department of Commerce reasons that some of its data is so economically sensitive that delaying it risks that it will be leaked.

29. Would the government continue to enforce wage and hour laws? The laws will still be in effect, but the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division would suspend operations.

30. Will disaster response be affected? No. However, all "non-disaster" grants — such as state and local preparedness programs — would be postponed, the Department of Homeland Security says.

31. Will e-Verify be affected? Yes. The government system to allow companies to voluntarily check the legal work status of its employees would be shut down.

GOVERNMENT BENEFITS

32. Would a shutdown put the brakes on implementing the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare?" No. The state-run exchanges for the uninsured would open as scheduled Tuesday. "The marketplaces will be open on Tuesday, no matter what, even if there is a government shutdown," President Obama said Friday.

33. Why not? Like Social Security or Medicaid, Obamacare is a permanent entitlement that isn't subject to annual funding by Congress. "Many of the core parts of the health care law are funded through mandatory appropriations and wouldn't be affected," Gary Cohen, the Health and Human Services Department official overseeing the health care rollout, said last week.

34. Would seniors continue to get Social Security benefits? Yes. Social Security is a mandatory spending program, and the people who send those checks would continue to work under a legal doctrine called "necessary implication."

35. Can I apply for Social Security benefits, appeal a denial of benefits, change my address or sign up for direct deposit? Yes.

36. Can I get a new or replacement Social Security card, benefit verification statement or earnings record correction? No.

37. Would the government continue to pay unemployment benefits? Yes. The Employment and Training Administration "will continue to provide essential functions, as occurred during the shutdown of 1995," according to the Department of Labor contingency plan.

38. Will I be able to get food stamps? Yes. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is funded through the Recovery Act and from funds that don't expire for another year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says.

39. What about WIC? No money would be available to pay the administrative costs of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. But because it's administered by states, there may be state funds available.

40. And the federal school lunch program? Schools are reimbursed for these costs on a monthly basis and are allowed to carry over funds from the previous fiscal year. The USDA expects most schools will be able to continue providing meals through October.

41. What will happen to veterans receiving compensation for service- or combat-related wounds and injuries? The Department of Veterans Affairs said if the shutdown continues into late October, it will run out of money for compensation and pension checks to more than 3.6 million veterans who rely on the money to support themselves.

42. Can I still get a federally backed loan? Maybe not. "Federal loans for rural communities, small business owners, families buying a home will be frozen," President Obama said Friday.

43. Does that mean I can't get an FHA mortgage? No. The Federal Housing Administration says it "will endorse new loans under current multi-year appropriation authority in order to support the health and stability of the U.S. mortgage market."

44. Does that mean I can't get a VA mortgage? No. The Department of Veterans Affairs says loans are funded via user fees and should continue. However, during the last shutdown, "loan Guaranty certificates of eligibility and certificates of reasonable value were delayed."

45. Will deceased veterans still be able to get a burial benefit? Yes. Burial benefits, headstones and death notices will still be available.

TAXES

46. Would the IRS continue to collect taxes? Yes. All payments would be processed. More than 12 million people have requested an extension on their 2012 taxes, which expires Oct. 15.

47. Will my refund be delayed? Possibly, especially if the taxpayer files a paper return.

48. What about taxpayer assistance? Walk-in assistance centers and telephone hotlines would be closed.

49. I'm being audited by the IRS. Would a shutdown affect me? Yes. The IRS will suspend all audit activities.

EMPLOYMENT

50. How many federal employees would be furloughed? The government has not given an official estimate.

51. Does anyone have a guess? J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government employees, said he expects the number will be 800,000 to 1 million, out of 2.1 million federal employees. That's consistent with a USA TODAY analysis of 2011 shutdown contingency plans, which found that 59% of non-defense government employees would continue to work.

52. Why do some federal employees continue to work during a shutdown? The law — or at least, the Justice Department's interpretation of it — contains exemptions for several classes of employees: The biggest exemption is for employees necessary to protect public health, safety or property. But property could include government data, ongoing research experiments or other intangibles. Political appointees are exempt because they cannot be placed on leave by law. Employees necessary for the president to carry out his constitutional responsibilities are exempt. Finally, employees whose salaries are paid from sources outside an annual spending bill can still get paid and report to work.

53. Who decides which employees work and which go home? Each agency is responsible for coming up with its own contingency plan, based on guidance from the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management. Those plans are then sent to the White House for review.

54. Would the president be paid during a shutdown? Yes. The president's $400,000 salary is mandatory spending. If furloughs begin to affect the government's ability to process payroll, his paycheck could be delayed.

55. What about White House staff? Some high-ranking presidential appointees are exempt from the Annual and Sick Leave Act of 1951, which means they can essentially be made to work unpaid overtime. Also, any employee necessary for the president to carry out his constitutional duties would be exempt.

56. And the president's personal aides? The White House has 90 staffers who work in the residence. During a shutdown, 15 of them would stay on the job.

57. Would Congress continue to be paid during a shutdown? Yes. The 27th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1992, holds that "No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened." Intended to prevent Congress from voting itself a raise, it also protects members from a pay cut.

58. What about congressional staff? Like other federal employees, they would be deemed essential or non-essential. Essential staff would include those necessary to carry out constitutional responsibilities, such as the parliamentarians, or for protection of members, such as the sergeants-at-arms. Staff of the appropriations committees may also be needed to write the law that would end the shutdown.

59. Would active-duty military be furloughed? No. All active-duty military are essential and should report as scheduled Tuesday, the Department of Defense said Friday.

60. Will civilian defense workers be furloughed? About half of them, or about 400,000, will be sent home, according to the Defense Department's contingency plan.

61. Would active-duty military be paid during a shutdown? If a shutdown lasts longer than a week, the Pentagon might not be able to process its payroll in time for the Oct. 15 paychecks, Defense Department Comptroller Robert Hale said Friday. The House passed a separate bill early Sunday that would appropriate money for active-duty and reserve paychecks regardless of the shutdown — and also pay for support services to make sure they get paid. That bill passed the House 422-0, but still must go to the Senate.

62. Could federal employees simply volunteer their services? No. A 19th-century federal law forbids volunteers because the government doesn't want them filing claims for back pay after the shutdown is over, according to a legal analysis by Washington attorney Raymond Natter.

63. Would federal employees get paid retroactively, even if they didn't work?Maybe. Congress granted retroactive pay to furloughed workers after the shutdowns of the mid-1990s, but that wouldn't necessarily happen again. "I believe this time is going to be much different. This is a much different Congress than the 1995 Congress," said Cox, federal employee union president. "I'm not sure that they'd even want to go back and pay the people who worked."

THE LONG TERM

64. How much money would a shutdown save taxpayers? Most likely, it wouldn't. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget says shutdowns cost money in terms of contingency planning, lost user fees and back pay. A government estimate after the shutdown in 1995-96 estimated its cost at $1.4 billion.

65. What effect would a shutdown have on the economy? Economists say even a short shutdown — of three or four days — would begin to shave decimal points off economic growth. A sustained shutdown of three or four weeks "would do significant economic damage," economist Mark Zandi told USA TODAY.

66. What about the stock market? The Standard & Poor's 500 fell 3.7% during the 1995-96 government shutdown, according to S&P Capital IQ. Stocks quickly rebounded after the government got back to work, rising 10.5% the month after the shutdown ended.

Contributing: Adam Shell, Tim Mullaney in New York, Gregg Zoroya in McLean, Va., Raju Chebium of Gannett News Service; Rick Maze and Andrew Tilghman of Military Times; Surae Chinn of WUSA-TV in Washington; and the Associated Press.

By Eli Saslow

September 25, 2013

The congressman had been called a “starvation expert” by analysts on TV and a “monster” by colleagues in the House of Representatives. Protesters had visited his offices carrying petitions demanding he resign. And now, six months into his crusade to overhaul the food stamp program, Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) departed the Capitol to address his most wary audience yet: the people whose government benefits he hoped to curtail.

“Stick to your talking points this time if you can,” said a staff member, handing him a sheet of those talking points minutes before they left for the event.

“It’s too late to start being cautious,” Southerland said, folding the paper and leaving it on his desk. It was already late summer, and he hoped to pass the most significant food stamp overhaul in decades by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

The event was listed on his schedule as a “Poverty Tour,” and Southerland had invited a dozen Republican policy experts to join him. They boarded a bus provided by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, and traveled across Washington to a job training center, where three homeless men idled outside. Southerland stood at the front of the bus to address his colleagues. He looked like the funeral director he had been before running for Congress in 2008 – shoes polished, suit pressed, eyes solemn, head bowed as if in prayer. “This is an important moment for us,” he said. If only his tough-love message could resonate with the unemployed, then maybe he could win over a divided Congress.

“What we are fighting for is a cultural shift,” Southerland told his colleagues on the bus. “The explosion of food stamps in this country is not just a fiscal issue for me. This is a defining moral issue of our time.”

Southerland’s food stamp proposal, which on Thursday the House narrowly voted to approve, would require able-bodied adults to work or volunteer at least 20 hours each week in order to receive government food assistance. “It’s the simple solution,” he said in March at a news conference introducing the idea. But in the months since, he has learned that no idea is simple in Washington, especially not one that would fundamentally alter a program that has tripled in size during the past decade, growing to support a record 47 million people at a cost of $80 billion each year.

In a divided Congress, few debates have been more fractious than the one over food stamps and few proposals have been as contentious as Southerland’s. Republicans say his idea would encourage people to find jobs, decreasing government spending while adding workers to the economy. Democrats say it would leave millions of the most vulnerable Americans hungry at a time when food insecurity is already approaching historic highs.

Southerland’s proposal passed the House despite receiving no Democratic support, as part of a bill that would cut 3.8 million people and $4 billion from the food stamp program next year. But that vote was only the first of many. In order to become law, his work requirement must survive a conference committee between leaders in the House and Senate, two more congressional votes and a president already threatening a veto.

“Getting something done here can be like navigating a maze,” Southerland said.

On this day, the maze led him up the stairs to the training center, where 25 residents of Southeast Washington were crammed into a classroom to learn tips about preparing for a job interview in fast food. All were unemployed. Most were among the 24 percent of Washington residents who receive between $100 and $600 each month in food assistance.

“Shower. Tuck in your shirt. Make eye contact with the interviewer,” the teacher was saying.

“Make sure your belt and your shoes match,” Southerland interjected, walking into the room with his colleagues and then introducing himself.

He began as he always does by telling his family story, which aides refer to as “the Gospel of Work.” His grandfather quit school in the sixth grade and made himself into the busiest funeral director in Panama City, Fla., continuing to work until he died at 91. Southerland started helping in that same funeral home before he turned 10, answering phones, washing cars and arranging flowers as he learned the family business. He required each of his four daughters to apply for work at a nearby restaurant on the day she turned 15. “Work is life. Work is opportunity,” he said now. He quoted from the Bible, citing a passage about how God created Adam to tend the Garden of Eden. “Even in paradise, we worked,” he said. “Work is not a punishment. It is what connects you with your purpose in life. What’s your purpose?”

One by one, the men and women in the classroom stood to share their plans. One wanted to become a teacher. Another said his “purpose” was to make at least $10 an hour. A man who had just cared for his dying mother thought maybe he could become a hospice nurse. “I liked the feeling of taking care of her, just knowing I was needed,” he said.

“Yes!” Southerland shouted, clapping his hands, punching his fist against the air. “Now that’s a purpose. Don’t wait for your ship to come in. Swim out to it.”

An older woman raised her hand in the corner of the classroom. She explained that she had been on public assistance most of her life. Food stamps helped her feed three kids. “I’ve been through dark times,” she said. “I needed help, and I got it. Do you believe that’s wrong?”

Southerland thought for a few seconds and then took a step toward her. “I believe that if you are going to eat, you should bring something to the table,” he said. The woman started to interrupt, but Southerland held up his hand. “That can be volunteering. That can be delivering Meals on Wheels, But somehow you’ve got to contribute. “I believe in a God-given purpose,” he told her.

“I believe that being dependent makes you more vulnerable. I believe work is the greatest gift you will ever receive.”

For the past six months, Southerland had been translating those beliefs into a succession of 14-hour workdays, trying to will his proposal into existence. He had delivered 45 speeches about food stamps, consulted with 20 anti-poverty experts and presented his idea to 13 governors. He had studied persuasive-writing techniques and read half a dozen books about effective leadership. And yet the biggest legislative project of his life still existed only on paper, inside two binders on his office shelf labeled “Important.”

Southerland had left his job at the funeral home in 2007 to run for office on a platform of small government and Second Amendment rights despite having no legislative experience and no connections in Washington. When it looked as if he would win, to become the first Republican elected in his district in 130 years, he went to the library to study books about the legislative process. Write a bill. Get a sponsor. Go to committee. Debate. Vote. Senate. President. Only in the past few months, Southerland said, had he begun to learn “all the behind-the-scenes steps nobody talks about.”

His food stamp proposal was not, in fact, his proposal. It was something that was handed to him by a stroke of political luck. He had wanted to pursue food stamp reform since arriving in Washington, but he lacked authority as a junior lawmaker relegated to subcommittees on fisheries and highway transportation. Instead, the idea for a work requirement came from 17 state human service secretaries who gathered in November to pitch their proposal to Republican members of the House Ways and Means Committee, who forwarded some of those ideas to Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who suggested the human service secretaries work with Southerland because, Cantor said, he was “a passionate true believer.”

“Absolutely! This is what I’m about,” Southerland had said, promising to make the proposal his No. 1 priority until it passed.

Now his color-coded office schedule had become a rainbow of food stamp events: red for anti-poverty tours, blue for private meetings, black for lobbyist appointments and the rare sliver of teal for personal time. He was meeting regularly with Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, to learn how to sell the idea by using active language, such as “earned success,” “sweat equity” and “upward mobility.” He was asking Newt Gingrich to give supportive interviews and Rick Santorum to write op-eds.

The best chance to enact reform, Southerland had decided, was to make the specifics of his proposal “utterly unobjectionable,” he said. Even though he believed in a 40-hour workweek, his proposal would mandate only 20. Even though he wanted it to be a national requirement, states would be able to implement or ignore it. There would be exemptions for the elderly, the disabled and mothers with children under 1. Some conservatives refused to back his proposal because it was “too soft,” he said, but Southerland was willing to trade their endorsements for more-widespread support.

Earlier in the summer, he stood on the House floor to present his idea to the entire chamber for the first time. He planned to speak for two minutes. After 10 seconds, he noticed a dozen Democrats moving toward a microphone, lining up for rebuttals.

“Egregious,” one said.

“Unbelievably misguided,” said another.

“Offensive.”

“Draconian.”

“Outright shameful.”

Several weeks later, still reeling from what he called the “debacle on the floor,” Southerland climbed into a black SUV in northwest Florida to drive across his congressional district with Jonathan Hayes, his chief of staff. They had booked seven events in two days, a trip that would cover more than 300 miles, but Southerland was looking forward to the drive. He hung his suit jacket in the back seat and grabbed a tobacco pipe. “Even if we’re working nonstop, the stress fades when I’m here,” he said.

His trips home sometimes made him wonder why he had ever decided to leave. In Panama City, he had left behind the wife he met in first grade and their four daughters, two of whom were still in high school. He missed his single-story house in the Panama City suburbs, where friends mostly wanted to talk about deer season and where even the most ardent Democrats respected the Southerlands for their work ethic and their Southern Baptist faith.

“In Washington, if someone disagrees with you, the problem must be your heart – you must be evil,” he said. “Here, if we fight, we are only fighting about an idea.”

On some days, Southerland also pined for his old job: 450 funerals every year, each not only a crisis for the family of the deceased but also a chance to make an immediate impact on the living. The funeral home had five phone lines, including one that rang straight to Southerland’s house when a death occurred in the middle of the night. Stillbirths, abductions, car accidents — he worked the funerals that others in his funeral home tried to avoid. He stood beside relatives as they visited the body. He rode with them in the hearse. Sometimes, at the grave sites, he sang hymns in a deep and mournful baritone. Nobody ever questioned his heart or his motives. He never doubted the value of his work.

Each funeral helped clarify his priorities. No matter whom they buried – backwoods alcoholics and resort owners, immigrants and veterans, in birch boxes and blue velvet caskets – the best eulogies remained the same. They were stories of family, friendship, ambition and hard work. Work created a legacy. Work provided meaning.

“I never heard anybody remembered for the things they didn’t do, or the impact they didn’t make, or the dreams they didn’t have,” Southerland said as the SUV crossed into Liberty County, the center of his district.

He looked out the window at the twisting Apalachicola River, its brown water buffeted by green cedars and Spanish moss. Some locals in Liberty County believe the Garden of Eden had once existed on a bluff high above the river, and the land had been home to Seminole and Creek tribes, Spanish missionaries, British settlers and the Confederate Army – a place where societies rose and then fell. On his drives through the area, Southerland sometimes wondered if he was witnessing another civilization in decline. Many stores in downtown Bristol were unoccupied and boarded up. The poverty rate was 25 percent. A pawnshop advertised “cheap guns,” and a gas station sign read, “Food stamps welcome here.”

“Food stamps welcome everywhere,” Southerland said, seeing the sign.

“So many people, just stuck,” Hayes said.

“This is the fifth generation of dependency,” Southerland said. “We have encouraged people to be sharecroppers instead of owning the land. The casualty of human capital, only eternity knows.”

They crossed through the dense pines of Apalachicola National Forest, where intergenerational poverty was hidden behind the trees. Southerland had received letters from people here who lived in trailers on unincorporated land. They wanted help buying food. They wanted opportunities for their children. How could Southerland convince them that this was one problem government alone could not solve? The United States had already spent 50 years and $16 trillion on the war against poverty, and yet the wealth gap continued to grow and the rate of extreme poverty in rural Florida had increased for eight consecutive years. If anything, government was complicit, Southerland thought. It had drained people’s ambition by giving them just enough money to stay poor. “It’s a travesty, what we’ve done,” he said. Food stamps were necessary to ward off desperation for the truly vulnerable – the disabled, sick, elderly – but they didn’t count as a way of life. The only chance to create opportunities for the next generation, he said, was to do what his grandfather had done, accepting groceries and tools in exchange for burial services to keep the business alive that first year; or what his father had done, risking the family’s emergency savings to build a bigger funeral home; or what Southerland himself had done, working 80-hour weeks to double the family business and expanding it into granite and timber.

“Government might help you survive,” he said, “but work creates lasting improvement.”

Now Southerland arrived in Tallahassee to tour a job training facility for the homeless, where he hoped to tell residents about his proposal. Fifteen minutes into the visit, he noticed a videographer following him on the tour. He recognized the man as a Democratic activist who was making campaign videos for Southerland’s opponent in the next election. The ads would splice Southerland’s words and make him into a caricature, he thought. They would dismiss his qualifications and distort his ideas. They would question not only his policies but also his motives.

He pulled one of the program’s founders aside midway through the tour.

“I’m mostly going to listen today,” Southerland said, gesturing at the videographer. “Anything I say here could be turned against me.”

This was the part of being a congressman that Southerland had begun referring to as the “devil’s duty” — the strategic part, when true belief capitulated to politics. And as the end of the fiscal year neared, it was politicking that dominated his schedule, first in Florida and then back in Washington.

In the run-up to Thursday’s vote, Southerland met with Republicans four times in Cantor’s office, and Cantor promised to push for a work requirement in the final version of the bill. But Democrats in the House and the Senate continued to object to even minor changes, promising to defeat Southerland’s proposal even after it passed the House by seven votes. They disagreed not only with Southerland’s proposal but also with his diagnosis of the problem and with his facts.

He said food stamp spending was “growing into oblivion”; Democrats said it would decrease just as quickly once the economy improved.

He cited data from the Agriculture Department indicating that half of food stamp recipients had stopped looking for work; Democrats countered with data also from the USDA showing that the fastest-growing demographic on food stamps was people who did work, but in jobs that paid so little they still qualified for the benefit.

He said his proposal would encourage people to enter the workforce; they said encouragement was useless since his proposal provided no guaranteed money for job training programs.

He said that only working-age adults would be affected by the requirement; they questioned what would happen to the children of those working-age adults if their parents didn’t find jobs and their families lost food stamps.

“We are dealing with opposite realities,” Southerland said. “So you fight and fight and fight and maybe get half of what you want.”

One night, exhausted and eager for a break, he left the Capitol to have dinner with his eldest daughter, Samantha, along with Hayes and his communications director, Matt McCullough. Samantha had graduated from college in Florida and moved to suburban Virginia to learn about government and be closer to her father.

“How’s life in the crazy Capitol?” she asked now, over milkshakes and burgers.

“This place is a mile wide and an inch deep,” Southerland said.

He explained that he had spent the past few days studying 20 years of food stamp policy, trying to differentiate himself from his colleagues by becoming an expert. “Nobody here really knows anything,” he said. He thought about that for a second and then reconsidered. “There’s one other guy,” he said. “A Democrat.” He told her about a Massachusetts liberal named Jim McGovern, who had been giving a speech about hunger on the House floor each week. McGovern had rallied the Democrats against Southerland’s proposal. Out of 435 people in the House, he was the only one who had studied food stamps just as hard and who seemed to care just as much.

“What does he say about all of this to you?” his daughter asked. “I don’t know,” Southerland said. “I haven’t talked to him.”

“What?” she said. “Seriously? Never? That doesn’t make sense.” She knew her dad as a conciliator who valued mentoring young men at church, yearly hunting trips with his three siblings and funeral director retreats to the mountains. “Your whole thing is connecting with people,” she said. “Everybody likes you.” And yet here was another Washington lawmaker, elected to solve the same problems, who had become an expert on the same issue, who worked in the same place, and her dad had never met with him?

“Can’t you ask him to coffee?” she asked. “You could work together.”

“That wouldn’t play so well with the conservative base,” Hayes joked.

“Or back in district,” McCullough said.

“Honey, look,” Southerland said, staring at her intently, pleading with her to understand. “Washington is a runaway freight train. There isn’t time here for anything.” He reached for two empty milkshake glasses to help him illustrate the problem, setting the glasses side by side on the table, their rims touching. “This is me, and this is the other guy when we get to Washington,” he said. “Different ideas, different people, but we are close. We are touching. Democrat and Republican. We can do something with this.”

He started to slowly pull the glasses in separate directions, ticking off reasons for the escalating divide. “Fundraising. Campaigns,” he said, moving the glasses farther apart. “Votes, strategy, rushing around, lobbyists, name-calling,” he continued, spreading the glasses farther, moving his daughter’s plate to clear a path for one of them. “I have my meetings and they have theirs. I run by them. They run by me. It’s all about winning, winning, winning. Winning – not fixing problems – defines all.”

Now Southerland stretched his arms as far as he could, placing each glass at a distant edge of the table. Each was just an inch from falling and shattering on the ground. This was the congressional divide over food stamps and so much else. This was Washington in 2013 – one place, Southerland was beginning to realize, where legislation depended on so much more than hard work.

“So now I’m here and they’re way over there,” he said, pointing to the glasses. “We can barely see each other. We can’t solve anything like this.”

###

MARIANNA — National policy dominated discussions at a Marianna town hall meeting hosted by U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City, on Thursday.

The public one-hour session at Chipola College allotted about 35 minutes for Southerland to answer questions from about 80 attendees. Of the nine written questions drawn from a basket, seven were about national issues, including immigration and health care.

Most-discussed by Southerland was immigration. It was the first issue Southerland spoke about before answering questions, and was the subject of the first two questions addressed to the congressman.

Southerland said immigration will be the first issue Congress picks up again when it reconvenes Sept. 9.

“I think every American recognizes the fact that there needs to be improvements in immigration,” Southerland said. “I was down at the border, by the way, in April to see our border and to see the challenges that, in my opinion, are just not really being addressed and I think our Constitution calls for us to address ... . The very first thing that I think you’re going to find in the House of Representatives is we will squarely come out and demand we secure our borders.”

Southerland, who visited Jackson Hospital in Marianna before the town hall meeting, has faced criticism for voting for two budgets authored by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan that would’ve ended Medicare’s guaranteed benefit and was widely projected to significantly increase health care costs. Thursday, Southerland said he supports “common sense” solutions that would lead to more affordable and higher-quality health care. Such a solution would be more options for health care consumers, he said.

He also noted that he voted against sequestration, which cut hospital Medicare reimbursements to hospitals 2 percent – or $45 billion – over the next nine years.

“I voted no for sequestration because I stood in front of you and I know that I promised I would not do anything to harm our seniors,” he said.

But most talk of health care at the meeting focused on attendees’ opposition to the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare. Southerland reassured attendees that he and the Republican Party will continue to working to repeal the law.

Southerland and his staff traveled to Tallahassee after the meeting.

Just months after launching America’s War on Poverty, President Lyndon Johnson made a brief visit to South Florida for the dedication of newly constructed Florida Atlantic University in October 1964.

President Johnson warned in his address that day of depriving children in need of a quality education, because doing so “perpetuates poverty as a national weakness.” While any parent would agree with the immeasurable value of a good education, nearly 50 years of hindsight has taught us some important lessons about poverty that go far beyond the classroom.

Johnson’s plan — and the 30 years of welfare policy that followed — were based on the faulty assumption that structural poverty could be eradicated by simply spending more money, creating new federal programs and raising taxes to sustain bigger government. Now, roughly $16 trillion later, there are more Americans living in poverty than when Johnson stepped to the FAU podium nearly a half century ago.

So how did the War on Poverty dissolve into a withering battle of attrition, wearing down generations of vulnerable families at a cost rivaling the entire size of our current national debt?

It turns out the anti-poverty equation was missing one of the most important variables of all: work.

By not requiring work or job training for healthy beneficiaries, the federal government perpetuated a decades-long cycle of dependency that smothered the individual’s spirit of earned success, while bloating the size of an already unmanageable Washington bureaucracy.

When states such as Wisconsin began to initiate work requirements for welfare benefits in the early 1990s, they found that welfare caseloads fell, and families in need saw their incomes rise. In New York City, Mayor Rudy Giuliani ushered in a work requirement program that reduced welfare rolls by hundreds of thousands over his two terms in office.

As the winds of change reached Washington, President Clinton and a Republican-controlled Congress came together to build upon the states’ success in promoting work. Requiring work was not a punitive measure; it was for the moral wellbeing of both person and country. The results were conclusive and undeniable.

Within five years of the bipartisan Welfare Reform Act of 1996, welfare caseloads dropped more than 60 percent. Work participation by never-married single mothers reached historic highs. Child poverty fell to record lows. And earnings for participating families rose substantially.

As a result of reduced welfare caseloads, precious resources could be more effectively and efficiently directed to families truly in need, thereby strengthening the frayed edges of the social safety net.

The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a provision that would empower states with the choice of initiating test projects that apply these same common-sense work requirements to the federal food stamp program.

In fact, citizens would be able to qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits under no less than a dozen different work-related responsibilities. These activities include searching for a job and receiving career or technical training.

Governors would have the flexibility of remaining under the current federal system or applying work requirements in their state. They would also have the ability to choose the maximum age of participation. States that are successful in moving citizens from welfare to work will receive half of all cost savings from the program.

Should these state demonstration projects prove as successful in promoting self-sufficiency as the welfare pilot projects of the early 1990s, we will be well on our way to restoring accountability and opportunity to our nation’s food stamp program.

Now more than ever, the American people have a choice to make: continue down the road of failure and dependency, or change course to incentivize work, opportunity and earned success. We need to implement policy changes that reflect the lessons of our past or we will be doomed to repeat them.

As Abraham Lincoln once said, “If this country is ever demoralized, it will come from trying to live without work.”

The time to act is now.

U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland II represents Congressional District 2 in Florida. Peter Cove is the founder of America Works, a private, for-profit company that has placed more than 350,000 previously dependent people into jobs.