Hunger is still a significant problem in the Unites States. Thirty-one million Americans 12 million of them children suffer from hunger or live on the edge of hunger, according to the most recent food insecurity report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A number of federal programs target hunger and food insecurity, generally through a partnership between the federal and state governments and cooperating organizations. They seek to provide children and needy families with access to food, a healthful diet and nutrition education in a manner that also supports American agriculture. Unfortunately there continue to be millions of children and adults in our country who go to bed and wake up hungry every day.
Food Stamps: The food stamps program is the first line of defense against hunger. It enables low-income families to buy nutritious food with coupons and Electronic Benefits Transfer [EBT] cards. State public assistance agencies run the program through their local offices. The amount of food stamps given is based on an estimate of how much it costs to buy food to prepare nutritious, low-cost meals for a household. Food stamps are expected to be only a part of a family's food budget. Family resource and income determine eligibility. Both U.S. citizens and some non-citizens may be eligible for food stamps. Adults between 18 and 50 who do not have any dependent children can get food stamps for only 3 months in a 36 month period if they do not work or participate in a workfare or employment and training program other than job search. This requirement can be waived in some locations. Congress must vote to reauthorize the food stamps program before it expires on September 30, 2002. Foods stamps reauthorization is included in the 2002 Farm Bill.
Child and Adult Care Food Program: The Child and Adult Care Food Program provides support for children through nutritious school meals and provides nutrition assistance for day care, after school and summer programs, and homeless shelters. Charitable and non-profit community organizations feeding children in these programs can receive reimbursement for food and meal preparation, as well as training in the nutritional needs of children. The program is administered at the national level by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and at the state level through the State Department of Education or Child Nutrition. Across the country, nearly 40,000 child care centers and over 175,000 family child care home providers working with 1,200 sponsors use the Child and Adult Care Food Program to provide high quality nutrition and learning experiences for over 2.7 million children.
WIC Program: The Special Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children [WIC] improves the health of mothers and their children by providing supplemental foods, nutrition and breast-feeding education, nutrition screening and referrals to other health, welfare and social services. It serves low-income, nutritionally at risk pregnant women; breast-feeding women; mothers for up to 6 months after the birth of an infant; infants up to their 1st birthday; and children up to their 5th birthday. WIC is not an entitlement therefore Congress does not set aside funds to allow every eligible individual to participate in the program. WIC is a Federal grant program for which Congress authorizes a specific amount of funds each year. WIC operates through 2,000 local agencies in 10,000 clinic sites in 50 states, 32 Indian Tribal Organizations, American Samoa, DC, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Over 7 million women and children participated in WIC in 2001.
Food Distribution: This program strengthens the nutrition safety net through commodity distribution and other nutrition assistance to low-income families, emergency feeding programs, Indian Reservations, and the elderly.
In Economic Justice for All, the bishops stated that the problem of hunger has a special significance for those who read the Scriptures and profess the Christian faith. From the Lord's command to feed the hungry, to the Eucharist, we celebrate as the Bread of Life, the fabric of our faith demands that we be creatively engaged in sharing the food that sustains life. There is no more basic human need. [no. 282] In Food Policy in a Hungry World , the bishops called for national policy which would establish food security as the ultimate goal of food and agricultural policy - ensuring that every human being has access to enough food to maintain a decent human standard of living. [p. 25] To combat hunger, the bishops called for strengthening the domestic food assistance programs to ensure that no one in America goes hungry or suffers malnutrition. They stated, "when the economy fails to provide the jobs and income necessary to prevent hunger and malnutrition, the various local, state, and national food assistance programs must be funded and expended to provide food to all in need." [pp.26-27]
What You Can Do
Support Restoring Food Stamps Eligibility for Legal Immigrants in the 2002 Farm Bill: The House and Senate have passed different versions of the 2002 Farm Bill, and both bills include a Nutrition Title reauthorizing and improving the food stamps program. But the Nutrition Titles vary in several ways the most important difference is that the Senate bill would restore eligibility for food stamps to legal immigrant children, and to legal immigrant adults who have been in the country for five years, while the House bill is silent on the issue. Legal immigrants have been denied access to most kinds of federal benefits since passage of the 1996 welfare reform law, and restoring benefit eligibility has been a top priority of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops ever since. The two Farm Bills must be reconciled in a House-Senate conference. Call your Senators and Representatives and ask them to tell their leadership that food stamps restoration for legal benefits must be part of the 2002 Farm Bill.
Support Full Funding for WIC: Each year, Congress determines in the Agriculture Appropriations bill how much to spend on the WIC program the following year. Work on appropriations bills usually begins in the summer. Make sure your Senators and Representatives know that you want adequate money set aside in the 2003 Agriculture Appropriations bill so that all the women and children who will eligible for WIC next year will be able to get assistance.
Make Sure Low-Income Families Have Access to Food Stamps: Anti-hunger advocates are concerned that food stamps participation rates are falling, in part due to confusion about how the foods stamps program and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program work together. Many families leaving welfare do not realize they may still be eligible for food stamps, and state food stamps and TANF systems are not always well-coordinated. Other families are unable to meet the program's burdensome administrative requirements for example, frequent in-person verification of eligibility conflicts with recipients' work schedules. It is important that agencies serving low-income people instruct them that regardless of the states' TANF rules, they may still be entitled to food stamps. Work with your local agencies that serve low-income families to be sure that they inform these families of their potential eligibility for food stamps even if they've exhausted their TANF benefits. Urge changes in burdensome state and federal administrative requirements that can keep eligible families from receiving food stamps.
For Further Information
Kathy Curran, 202-541-3188, firstname.lastname@example.org.