Posts Tagged ‘be more than a witness’

Caught Between a Stamp and a Hard Place

Friday, August 6th, 2010

photo of vintage food stamps

There are now more than 40 million Americans receiving food stamp benefits, a 27-year high. And yet yesterday the Senate voted to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by $14 billion. As of last November the program fed 1 in 8 Americans and 1 in 4 children.

Voices for America’s Children, an anti-hunger advocacy group, has a nifty web interface that will let you send a letter to your Senators right from your computer (or your phone! Do it at the farmer’s market!)  They have more opportunities for action, and background on the various bills currently making their way through Congress at their site, including  Child Nutrition Reauthorization (yeah, it’s a big quote but read it):

This year, Congress will reauthorize federal school meal and child nutrition programs. The reauthorization includes several child and adult feeding programs that reach infants, toddlers, school-aged children and older youth. Referred to collectively as Child Nutrition Reauthorization, the effort will include all federal school meal and child nutrition programs.

Seventeen million children, one in four, live at risk of hunger. The programs included in the child nutrition reauthorization ensure nourishing meals for needy children, which is fundamental to fostering the next healthy, strong and smart generation. Polling data indicate that the public shares this aim, with 83 percent of adults surveyed supporting expanding the Child Nutrition Act to more children and providing healthier food.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 10 million children participate in the school breakfast program and 30 million children receive lunch through the school lunch program. Oftentimes the only nutritious foods the poorest children can count on are these subsidized school meals.  These programs, along with the Special Supplemental Nutrition Programs for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the Child and Adult Care Feeding Program and others, are the strongest part of our nation’s safety net and are vital resources in the fight to end child hunger.

Importance of Federal Nutrition Programs as a Food Delivery System

A robust reauthorization of federal nutrition programs would strengthen the existing food delivery system by reaching millions of children across age and setting. In the richest country on the planet, children should not be unsure of their next meal, yet more than 500,000 children sometimes face outright hunger. Child nutrition programs are facing a two-part challenge: rising rates of child hunger and obesity. Child nutrition reauthorization is critical to solving them both.

The need for food assistance is growing as more families turn to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) as a way of keeping food on the table in the wake of a job loss or a cut in pay. From August 2008 to August 2009, SNAP participation grew by 7 million people, with children making up half of the increase in participants, due largely to the impact of the recession. Although more children are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals by being eligible for SNAP or meeting the income criteria, school meals don’t show the same sharp upward climb because they typically exchange data with their local SNAP office only once or twice a year. As a result, states are only slowly beginning to see upticks in the demand for school meals, and more children are likely to be eligible for school meals but not enrolled.

The need for food assistance is growing as more families turn to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) as a way of keeping food on the table in the wake of a job loss or a cut in pay. From August 2008 to August 2009, SNAP participation grew by 7 million people, with children making up half of the increase in participants, due largely to the impact of the recession. Although more children are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals by being eligible for SNAP or meeting the income criteria, school meals don’t show the same sharp upward climb because they typically exchange data with their local SNAP office only once or twice a year. As a result, states are only slowly beginning to see upticks in the demand for school meals, and more children are likely to be eligible for school meals but not enrolled.

Principles to Guide the Child Nutrition Reauthorization

Voices for America’s Children (Voices) supports the principles for the reauthorization of child nutrition programs adopted by the Child Nutrition Forum, a consortium of national organizations against hunger.  In short, Voices believes:

  • Good nutrition is critical for children’s development and contributes to their ability to learn in school.
  • Child nutrition programs play a critical role in helping children – especially those in low-income families – achieve access to quality food, child care, educational opportunity and enrichment activities while improving their overall health, development and school achievement. Federal support for these programs has not always kept pace with children’s needs.
  • A well-conceived, appropriately funded reauthorization bill can reduce hunger and food insecurity in America, help reduce the number of children who are overweight or obese, improve child nutrition and health and enhance child development and school readiness.

Voices’ Goals for Child Nutrition Reauthorization

President Obama included $1 billion a year for the child nutrition reauthorization in his budget proposal for fiscal years 2010 and 2011; however, securing the funding is likely be an uphill battle in Congress given the current budget climate.  But federally funded meal programs are a lifeline for children and families. Food programs are the remaining family support for thousands of households that lack a regular source of income, face exhausted unemployment compensation in some states, and live without adequate health care.  These programs are the critical link.

In partnership with the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), Voices’ primary advocacy goals include a reauthorization that:

  • Provides an at least $1 billion for the child nutrition reauthorization above current spending levels;
  • Increases access and participation in places where children gather, like school, child care centers and after-school locations;
  • Removes administrative and other barriers to participation for children, parents and at food locations;
  • Enhances nutrition quality by placing greater emphasis on healthy meals, which can be more expensive to provide, particularly in neighborhoods with limited or no access to sources of healthy food.

In March, the Senate Agriculture Committee completed its work on the “Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010″ (S. 3307), which is a positive step forward in reducing childhood hunger. In addition to requiring that all food sold in schools be subject to established nutritional standards, the legislation also expands the Afterschool Meal Program to all 50 states and increases access by offering direct certification to foster children and those in the Medicaid programs (phased in).  The Senate’s legislation (S. 3307) has been estimated to cost $4.5 billion over 10 years.

More recently, the House released its version of child nutrition reauthorization. George Miller, chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, released the “Improving Nutrition for America’s Children’s Act of 2010″ (H.R. 5504). This bill takes a much larger step toward increasing access for many of the nation’s children from families with low incomes. In addition to offering direct certification for foster care and children in Medicaid (phased in), the bill also encourages expansions in the School Breakfast Program, provides protections for discrimination or segregation of children eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, and also addresses the quality of meals served in schools. Though an official cost estimate has not been released, the legislation is predicted to require approximately $8 billion over 10 years.

Our Nation’s Children Cannot Afford to Wait

Voices looks to Congress to finish its work on both the House (H.R. 5504) and Senate (S. 3307) bills. We believe federal child nutrition programs play a critical role in helping children, especially those in rural and urban settings where access to healthy foods may be limited.  One sure way to prevent children from going to bed hungry is to provide healthy, nutritious meals at the places they gather (child care centers, school, and after-school programs). We believe that a strong child nutrition reauthorization can do this.

I find myself using the “class war” tag on every entry these days.