The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) today pressed the new Administration and Congress to quickly implement policies that will effectively and decisively reduce hunger in America, just as the U.S. Department of Agriculture released new data showing that more than 36.2 million Americans struggled against hunger in 2007, compared to 35.5 million in 2006 and 33.2 million in 2000. The number of people in the worst-off category – the hungriest Americans – rose by forty percent since 2000, from 8.5 million to 11.9 million.
“During the campaign, President-elect Barack Obama committed to ending childhood hunger in this country by 2015,” said FRAC President Jim Weill. “Polling data show that Americans overwhelmingly agree that ending hunger should be a top priority for the nation. While this is a time of growing hunger and economic distress around the nation, there are important opportunities ahead that can significantly boost our nation's investment in the fight against hunger and help the President-elect meet this important goal.”
FRAC made the case for addressing hunger during a policy briefing at the National Press Club today. The briefing focused on how the economic crisis is leading to increased hunger in America and identified actions that are urgently needed to battle rising food costs and declining employment and wages. FRAC released its annual State of the States report at the event, which includes details on national trends and the extent of hunger and poverty in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
At the event, FRAC called on Congress to take two quick steps:
FRAC pointed out that these two steps are necessary but more will need to be done to meet President-elect Obama's goal. They will need to be followed by a range of strategies to lift the incomes of low-income families and strengthen nutrition program benefits.
Also released at the briefing was a new report that found that children who are “food insecure” are more likely to have mental health issues, are more likely to be obese, and can significantly lag behind their peers in school. The federal government defines a person or family as being “food insecure” if they have limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.
The report, “Reading, Writing and Hungry: The consequences of food insecurity on children and on our nation's economic success,” was produced by FRAC and the Children's Sentinel Nutrition Assessment Program for the Partnership for America's Economic Success, which is managed by The Pew Charitable Trusts.
“When mothers can't afford enough healthy food during pregnancy and families don't have enough food for their children, the negative outcomes can be serious and long-term,” said Cynthia Esposito Lamy of the Partnership for America's Economic Success. “To grow the economy we cannot afford to have children lagging behind in school because of hunger. Our report found that food insecure children learn at slower rates, are more likely to have problems with hyper-activity and absenteeism, and are twice as likely to receive special education services or to need to repeat a grade. Most troubling, these physical, cognitive, social and emotional development delays can persist throughout their lives.”
Speakers at the event included Jared Bernstein, economist with the Economic Policy Institute; Dr. Deborah Frank, founder of the Children's Sentinel Nutrition Assessment Program; Kimberley Chin, director of Maryland Hunger Solutions; and Cynthia Esposito Lamy, representing the Partnership for America's Economic Success. The panel discussion was moderated by Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune.
Along with a call for increased funding for nutrition programs, panelists discussed how programs are working on the ground and considered ways to increase nutrition program enrollment. Panelist Kimberley Chin, director of Maryland Hunger Solutions, focused on increasing food stamp and child nutrition eligibility and outreach at the state level. Chin recently took the “Food Stamp Challenge,” which requires participants to live on an average food stamp budget of approximately $3 per day for one week in order to raise awareness of the program and its shortcomings.
"The nation's economic crisis brings with it rising rates of hunger. However, we also have an excellent opportunity to resolutely address the hunger problem with a new president and new Congress,” Weill said. “Together, we can work to strengthen our nation's nutrition and economic security programs and make sure that struggling families are not left behind.”
The Food Research and Action Center (www.frac.org) is the leading national organization working for more effective public and private policies to eradicate domestic hunger and undernutrition.