Bread Members Keep Pressure on Congress
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill face mounting pressure to reduce our country’s deficits and stabilize our fiscal future, but any enacted policies must not push more Americans into poverty or make those already in poverty worse off.
In August, the Senate approved a $26.1 billion bill (H.R. 1586) that will help states sustain Medicaid and avoid teacher cutbacks. However, legislators cut future funding to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called food stamps) in order to help pay for this bill—a disappointing decision for Bread for the World members and other anti-hunger advocates.
Struggling Families Face Increasing Burdens
“It is a good bill and the funds are critically needed by the states, but by using SNAP funds, Congress has taken away the equivalent of twice the amount of food that will be provided by all of the food charities in the upcoming year,” said Rev. David Beckmann, Bread for the World president.
“Taking money from poor, hungry people to help poor, sick people is not the solution. Congress should have found the money elsewhere in the budget.”
The bill will cut nearly $12 billion in SNAP payments at a time when a record number of Americans—40.8 million—are relying on food stamps.
According to “The Economic Cost of Domestic Hunger,” a report from the Sodexho Foundation, hunger costs our economy $90 billion a year; poverty creates an additional $22 billion in healthcare spending per year. Similarly, child poverty costs our nation about $500 billion each year in lower educational outcomes, reduced productivity, and increased healthcare costs. A recent study by Caroline Ratcliffe and Signe-Mary McKernan shows that children who are persistently poor are much less likely to be consistently employed as adults.
It is critical that the legislation governing child nutrition programs—which is due to expire at the end of this month—be reauthorized. While both the House and Senate versions of the Child Nutrition Act would improve the nutritional quality of school lunches, the House bill (H.R. 5504), would do much more to strengthen summer, breakfast, and afterschool programs that get meals to kids, says Beckmann.
More than 19 million children receive free or reduced-price school lunches; about 10 million receive breakfast but only 12 percent receive meals in the summer. The House bill will help expand access and participation for millions of children who otherwise would go hungry.
“Damage from hunger is huge, especially the damage to small children,” Beckmann told CNN’s American Morning in August. “That kind of hunger keeps kids from concentrating. Little kids are supposed to be learning machines, but they can’t pay attention when they’re hungry.”
Ironically, the Senate is proposing to take even more money from food stamps to pay for school lunches. The Senate’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which passed in August, provides $4.5 billion over 10 years to bolster the government’s child-nutrition programs, including school meals.
While Bread applauds the bill’s emphasis on raising nutritional standards, the bill cuts SNAP benefits to do it. In many cases, existing SNAP benefits aren’t enough for many families to keep food on the table for a full month.
“Typically, families run out of food stamps or they run out of their wage checks by the third week of the month,” Beckmann told CNN. “But also all month long they don’t have quite enough so they have to skimp and eat cheaper foods—which are often crummy foods.”
Nutritionally poor diets often lead to obesity. In the United States, one in three kids are obese and overweight. Obesity among children and young adults has increased dramatically—in fact, being overweight is the leading medical reason for rejection from military service. The proportion of potential recruits who failed their physicals each year because they were overweight has risen nearly 70 percent.
When Jesus talked about how God will judge the nations, Jesus said God will focus on what we did or didn’t do for hungry people and other people in need. Our country faces a huge budget deficit, but Congress should not balance the budget on the backs of people who are trying to feed themselves and their families.
Please contact your senators and representatives and tell them they should not be making it even harder for struggling families. With your help, strong nutrition programs can provide millions of hungry children with the food they need and put us on track to achieving the president’s goal of ending child hunger by 2015. Find the latest information at www.bread.org.