Hunger is still a significant problem in the Unites States. Over thirty-three million Americans " 12.7 million of them children " suffer from hunger or live in homes that are on the edge of hunger. A number of federal programs target hunger and food insecurity, partnerships between the federal and state governments and cooperating organizations. They provide children and needy families with access to food, a healthy 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 resources and income determine eligibility. Both U.S. citizens and some non-citizens, including those receiving disability, are now eligible for food stamps. Food stamps eligibility for non-citizens will soon be expanded to include legal immigrant children (effective in October 2003) and all legal immigrants after they have resided here for five years (effective in April 2003). There are additional limits on eligibility for adults between 18 and 50 who do not have any dependent children.
Child and Adult Care Food Program: The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) provides support for children through nutritious school meals and 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, over 40,000 child care centers and 165,000 family child care home providers working with 1,000 sponsors use the CACFP to provide 2.7 million children and 80,300 adults nutritious CACFP meals and snacks.
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 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 and children up to their 5th birthday. WIC is not an entitlement but a Federal grant program for which Congress must authorize a specific amount of funds each year. About 7.5 million women and children participated in WIC in 2001.
Food Distribution Programs: Food distribution programs strengthen the nutrition safety net through commodity distribution and other nutrition assistance to low-income families, emergency feeding programs, Indian Reservations, and the elderly. For example, children can receive nutritious food through USDA distribution programs such as the National School Lunch Program, the CACFP and the Summer Food Service Program. Through the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) the USDA makes commodity foods available to food banks and soup kitchens through states and local agencies, allowing low-income needy people, including elderly people, to receive emergency food and nutrition assistance at no cost.
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 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 2004 Agriculture Appropriations bill so that all the women and children who will eligible for WIC next year will be able to get assistance.
Reauthorization of WIC and Child Nutrition Programs: Congress must reauthorize the WIC and Child Nutrition Programs (such as CACFP and the school and summer meal programs). Urge Congress to authorize additional funding and include program improvements in their legislation, to make sure that all children get the healthy food they need to grow.
Make Sure Low-Income Families Have Access to Food Stamps: Food stamps caseloads have been on the rise for two years. Average monthly participation in 2002 was 19.1 million people an increase of almost 2 million over 2001. But only about 59 percent of those eligible for food stamps receive them and participation rates can vary by state from under 50 percent to over 70 percent. Many families leaving welfare do not realize they can get transitional food stamps for five months, and may still be eligible for food stamps after that. Other families are unable to meet the program"s burdensome administrative requirements. 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. And it is important to make sure that legal immigrants know that children and other legal immigrants will soon be able to receive food stamps under the new eligibility rules. Work with your local agencies that serve low-income families and immigrants to be sure they inform these families of their potential eligibility for food stamps. 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, USCCB website: www.usccb.org