Monday, March 6, 2017

President, Congress must protect programs that keep hunger at bay


As the president and Congress start to prepare FY 2018 budget proposals, there is a real danger that vital health, housing and nutrition programs will end up on the chopping block.

Despite the president’s campaign statements that he will be the protector of federal programs aimed at helping elderly and low-income Americans, there is reason to fear that budget cutters in the administration and the House of Representatives will prevail and the soon-to-be-released fiscal 2018 budget outline will significantly undercut federal programs that help low-income individuals and families.

Gaby and her family in eastern Tennessee are one such family. When Gaby and her husband both lost their jobs, they were forced to make tough choices that no parent should have to make – like choosing between paying for utilities and buying food and diapers. With the help of federal nutrition  programs, such as SNAP, along with their local food bank, they are able to get their family through these hard times.

Starting this past weekend (March 3-5), more than 1,200 anti-hunger advocates and charitable feeding programs from across the nation were in Washington for FRAC's annual policy conference. On Tuesday, they will descend on Capitol Hill, wearing #EndHungerNow buttons, to urge their members of Congress to protect and improve federal nutrition programs.

Large numbers of constituents in every Congressional district in every state, in rural, suburban, and urban areas alike, rely on these programs.  In fact, in this country 42 million people face hunger — including 13 million children and more than 5 million seniors. During their Hill visits, the advocates will distribute a statement signed by nearly 3,000 national and state organizations. It calls on the president and policymakers to stay faithful to one of our nation’s most important and widely agreed-upon beliefs, one that has deep and long-standing bipartisan support: nobody in this country should go hungry.

Our message to elected officials is this: No structural changes, no block grants, and no budget cuts for federal nutrition programs that help low-income Americans.

Together, the federal nutrition program investments reduce hunger and poverty, improve health and learning, increase productivity, create jobs and strengthen our communities. They help the many people in our country — of all ages, races, ethnicities and life circumstances — who are struggling. This includes seniors, children, people with disabilities, military and veterans’ families, low-wage workers, unemployed and underemployed adults, and others.

SNAP (formerly food stamps) is our nation’s first line of defense against hunger. It is structured to respond effectively to need as a result of national or local economic downturns, natural disasters and other causes. Food banks across the country are already stretched. Cuts to SNAP would add unmanageable pressure and make it impossible for people who are in need to feed their families.

If not for SNAP and other very effective federal nutrition programs — including school meals, TEFAP, child care meals, summer meals, WIC, and others — hunger in this country would be far, far worse. The evidence is strong that these programs work. They not only support low-income people, but the nation’s economic and overall well-being, with SNAP alone lifting 4.6 million people out of poverty in 2015, according to the Census Bureau.

Hunger is unacceptable, particularly because it is solvable. Greater investments, not cuts, must be made to build on the progress toward achieving this goal.  By strengthening federal nutrition programs through increased funding and broader access, the president and Congress will take the right steps forward to ensure a hunger-free America.

Diana Aviv is the chief executive officer of Feeding America. Jim Weill is the president of the Food Research & Action Center.