Feed the hungry

Congress has a moral duty to address needs of millions without enough food

Nearly 49 million Americans and 17.6 million U.S. households are food insecure. Nearly 17 million of these individuals are children, 5 million are seniors and 300,000 are elderly veterans. Last month, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a report stating that in the aftermath of the recession, food hardship remained extremely high as more than 8 million Americans lost their jobs. From the unemployed factory worker to the teacher who lives paycheck to paycheck, hunger and poverty affect every community in America. 

As ranking member of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight and Nutrition, it is my responsibility to ensure our federal government promotes policies that prevent hunger from spiraling out of control. Congress has a moral duty to address the physical and mental burden hunger causes. It deprives adults and children from living fuller and more productive lives. Our federal anti-hunger programs have been responsive and extremely successful in reducing this burden. They provide a safety net that prevents our communities from being overwhelmed by abject poverty. Unfortunately, House Republicans believe otherwise. 

This week, Congress will debate a nutrition bill that will cut food assistance at the expense of our most vulnerable communities, many of which have been hit hardest by the economic downturn. Individuals who live in high unemployment areas will be particularly impacted by the new work regulations that do not reflect the reality of today’s economy. These cuts are unimaginable at a time when our national unemployment rate remains high and when African-American unemployment is at a staggering 13 percent. 

The need for food assistance is already greater than SNAP can fill, and food banks and charities have stepped up to the plate to address these additional needs. Demand for assistance at food banks has increased 46 percent during the recession, so it’s no surprise they are having a hard time keeping up with the current levels of need. Today, our anti-hunger organizations are preparing for an even greater demand caused by the elimination of the SNAP benefit boost provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that is set to occur this November. Instead of cutting these vital programs, Congress should be finding ways to make them more efficient and robust so they can feed more people, not fewer people.

Unfortunately, my counterparts in the Republican leadership disagree. Their nutrition bill not only eliminates $40 billion in assistance, but would also further stigmatize those who receive SNAP benefits. When it comes to hunger, so many people in our communities already suffer in silence. These terrible provisions would only codify the shaming and persecution of SNAP beneficiaries.

So, with such deep and targeted cuts, who will be left to fend for the hungry that fall by the wayside? Through the economic downturn, organizations have stepped up to prevent hunger from creating a cycle of poverty that devastates families and economically distresses communities. But many, if not most, of our charities and food banks have reached their limits in the number of meals they can serve. These organizations and the families they support are now looking to Congress to address the growing food insecurity by finding long-term solutions that close these gaps and protect our hunger programs. 

There is a clear path to making SNAP more efficient without harming the ability to meet the needs of the hungry. Instead of debating the Republican nutrition bill, Congress can take the farm bills passed in the House and Senate to conference so that we can work out the differences. This Republican nutrition bill does not address the harsh reality millions around this country already face. There are people who need our help. It’s time for us to place aside partisanship and do what’s right for the people we serve. 

Fudge, chairwoman of the CBC for the 113th Congress, has represented Ohio’s 11th Congressional District since 2008. She sits on the Agriculture and the Education and the Workforce committees.