From Deborah Bryan, president and CEO of Action for Children North Carolina, a children’s advocacy organization:
In this contentious campaign season, when every issue seems to have the potential to spark a partisan debate in Congress and between neighbors, it is important to remember that there are things most of us agree on. Every American should have access to education and opportunity; we should care for our sick and our elders; and no child, in this land of plenty, should ever have to go hungry.
So it may surprise many to learn that one in five North Carolinians struggles to put food on the table. In some parts of the state, the number is more than one in four. And far too many of those going without are children. Scientific studies – and common sense – tell us that children who are hungry are more likely to fall ill, miss more days of school, and not learn as well when they are in school. These are the children who will drive our economy in the near future – their missed opportunities hurt us all.
Every day, public programs successfully reduce the number of children going hungry in our country and in our state. The school-based free- and reduced-price breakfast and lunch programs ensure that more than half of North Carolina’s children eat at least two square meals for less than a dollar a day. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps) helps feed more than 1.6 million North Carolinians who would otherwise go hungry, and the program lifts thousands of our Tar Heel neighbors out of poverty every year.
Just as we agree that no one in our country should have to go hungry, Americans believe that providing public food assistance to the low-income, disabled and elderly is an important national priority. A poll released last week from the Food Research Action Center reports that a full three-quarters of Americans across the political spectrum believe that, especially in these challenging economic times, the government should continue spending the same amount or more on programs to address hunger, and that cutting spending on food assistance is the wrong way to reduce government spending.
Congress could cut SNAP
And yet, despite the obvious and increasing need for hunger relief, and despite the American people’s overwhelming support of hunger-relief programs, Congress is currently debating large cuts to food assistance. Both the Senate and House versions of the Farm Bill – which is due to be reauthorized by the end of the month – include cuts to SNAP. The Senate would cut benefits for an estimated 500,000 households by $90 per month; the House would also make those cuts, plus end benefits completely for a minimum of 1.8 million people.
There is no question that our nation is facing a fiscal crisis that must be solved. Solving the crisis on the backs of hungry families, however, is no solution at all. When times are tough, government spending should focus on the basics, and assuring the health, safety and education of our children should be priority number one.
Congress may be embroiled in partisan battles, but the American people are still thinking clearly on the issues that matter most for our nation’s future. We want our leaders to lead us into a more stable economy, so that more of us can work and provide for our families. But in the meantime, we need our leaders to remember the basics, and make sure the children are fed.