Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
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Federal cuts will worsen hunger in America

By Nancy Miller and Mary Johnson on November 18, 2013
© hollandsentinel.com

Holland, Mich.

The Holland Bread Team (a.k.a. the Holland Chapter of Bread for the World) commends The Sentinel for its recent articles on homelessness and hunger in Holland. The presence of tent cities and Friday’s long line of people waiting to receive surplus food illustrate the desperation of many families in Holland, despite their best efforts to provide for themselves.

Though similar struggles are occurring in communities across America, Congress is poised to impose cuts in federal nutrition programs. SNAP (food stamps) faces cuts in the farm bill, and programs such as WIC and Meals on Wheels are jeopardized by sequestration. As Christian advocates for public policies to end hunger, we members of the Holland Bread Team believe that these cuts are unnecessary, unwise and unconscionable. Even setting aside the biblical mandate to recognize Christ in those who are hungry (Matthew 25:35), the case for robust support of federal nutrition programs is compelling.

• Self-interest. Federal nutrition programs benefit our economy and our society. Many studies link adequate nutrition for children to their physical and mental health, school performance, and cognitive development. Similarly, adequate nutrition for adults supports their health and their ability to parent and hold down a job. During the financial crisis, SNAP benefits helped prevent many families from descending down the slippery slope of poverty. When we skimp on nutrition programs, we forfeit the contributions of food-insecure members of society, lose economic competitiveness and add tremendously to our nation’s health care bill.

• Scale. The scale of hunger in the US is far too great for private aid alone to be sufficient. When the value of all the private and public U.S. domestic food aid is added up, private aid amounts to just 5 percent of the total. This is despite the heroic efforts of many churches and other parties, leading to an explosive growth in food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens since the 1980s.

The relative smallness of private programs also means that a seemingly modest cut in federal programs leaves a very large hole for the private sector to fill. For example, because of the expiration of a provision in the 2009 stimulus bill, SNAP benefits fell on Nov. 1, and local food pantries are already seeing a large increase in families seeking help. At one local church’s mobile food pantry, the number of families seeking food rose from 95 to 145.

• Justice. Economic and social mobility have fallen dramatically in the U.S. While wealthy people enjoy many opportunities to retain and increase their wealth, the less well off face increasing obstacles to making progress in today’s economy. Public policies in areas such as taxes, banking, education and health care have much to do with these disparities. So, while we call for reforms that correct such inequities, we insist on a robust safety net for those who need help now.

We’ll end by addressing the common myth that SNAP benefits foster dependency. Would the availability of SNAP benefits, meager as they are, really discourage someone from getting a job? The evidence strongly suggests that most SNAP beneficiaries want to work. The majority of the non-disabled, working-age people on SNAP already have a job, and a higher majority of them have a job immediately before or after being on SNAP. On average, households stay on SNAP for only nine months. Also, studies have shown that SNAP actually helps people become productive citizens.

The Holland Bread Team understands that our nation needs to reduce its budget deficit. But we can do that with smart budget cuts and modest tax increases. We must not allow our fiscal difficulties to be an excuse for neglecting the job of ending hunger in our nation now.

— Nancy Miller and Mary Johnson are residents of holland.




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