By Clark Hansen
October 13 was an exciting day for Bread for the World and its Nevada partners: three square Food Bank, the Episcopal Diocese of Nevada, Nevadans for the Common Good, and Oxfam. Bread organized a meeting with U.S. Senate candidate Catherine Cortez Masto at the food bank’s office to talk about key hunger issues facing Nevadans. Hunger among seniors and criminal justice reform were at the top of our list.
Masto, running on the Democratic ticket, is in a tight race to fill the seat being vacated by Sen. Harry Reid. We have also requested a meeting with Dr. Joe Heck, running as the Republican candidate. So far, his campaign has not committed to meet with us.
As part of the I Vote to End Hunger campaign, we are reaching out to congressional candidates and asking them how they plan to end hunger, alleviate poverty, and create opportunity in the U.S. and worldwide. Our goal is to not only get candidates talking about hunger issues on the campaign trail, but also to begin building long-term relationships with the next leaders in the 115th Congress.
Nevada ranks as the 18th hungriest state in the country. Hit hard by the Great Recession, residents are still struggling to rebuild their lives after the economic fallout. The next senator will have opportunities to strengthen policies to help Nevadans, where 1 in 7 households struggles to put food on the table.
We told Masto that we want to elect leaders who will strengthen the social safety net and protect people who are vulnerable to hunger. Many low-income seniors in Nevada experience poor health as a result of hunger. A Social Security check does not always cover monthly expenses and buy nutritious foods. Federally funded programs, such as SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) and Meals on Wheels, are lifelines.
Another population with especially high rates of hunger is formerly incarcerated people and their families. People leaving prison are at high risk of returning to conditions of hunger and poverty. We talked to Masto about the shortage of halfway houses in Nevada and the many returning citizens who have no place to live after serving their sentences.
The issue of reforming our broken justice system is gaining strong bipartisan support in Congress and on the campaign trail. The U.S. federal prison population has increased more than 750 percent over the past 35 years with soaring costs to taxpayers. Electing a senator who can lead on criminal justice reform is important for Nevada voters. Nevada incarcerates prisoners at a higher rate than the rest of the United States.
Masto listened carefully and asked questions as we conveyed the urgency of making hunger a top priority for the next Congress. We hope meetings like this are just the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship. At the end of the meeting, Masto agreed to meet with our group after 30 days if she is elected to represent Nevada as its next senator.
Bread and our partners continue to urge both congressional and the presidential candidates to talk about the issues we care about. We want the president and Congress who take office in 2017 to do their part to put our nation and the world on track to end hunger by 2030. The third and final presidential debate will take place in Las Vegas, Nev. Wednesday night. We hope hunger and poverty will finally be a topic of this debate.
Clark Hansen is a regional organizer for Bread for the World.