(Update June 2005)
Hunger is still a significant problem in the Unites States. In 2003, over 36 million Americans - 13.3 million of them children - suffered from hunger or lived in homes that are on the edge of hunger. A number of federal programs target hunger and food insecurity, generally through 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. Legal immigrant children may receive food stamps, and other legal immigrants are eligible after they have resided here for five years. 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. Almost 3 million children in 2004 received nutritious meals and snacks through CACFP programs at child care centers and family child care homes across the country,.
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 7.9 million women and children participated in WIC in 2004.
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 For I Was Hungry and You Gave Me Food , the bishops reiterated that a primary goal of food and agricultural policy should be providing basic food and nutrition for all. In Food Policy in a Hungry World  the bishops called for strengthening the domestic food assistance programs to ensure that no one in America goes hungry or suffers malnutrition. "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 expanded to provide food to all in need."
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 early in the year. Make sure your Senators and Representatives know that you want adequate money set aside in the 2006 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: According to preliminary USDA estimate, an average of 23.9 million people participated in the program each month in 2004 -- more than 2.6 million more than in 2003. And almost one-half of those eligible to receive food stamps are not getting them. 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 programs 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 all children and adults who have been here for five years are now able to receive food stamps under 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.
Agriculture Appropriations: WIC
On May 25, the House Appropriations Committee approved legislation to provide funding for agriculture and food programs in fiscal year 2006. The bill includes funding for the WIC program, which would receive $5.3 billion next year (an increase of $22 million over last year, and sufficient to fund anticipated program participation in 2006) as well as $125 million for the WIC contingency fund (as insurance in case participation goes above projected levels). The bill is expected to move to the full House for a vote in June. The Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee will begin work on its bill in June.
Budget Resolution: Food Stamps
As part of the final budget resolution for 2006, the Agriculture Committees in both Houses are required to cut $3 billion from programs they oversee the three major programs being food stamps, farm payments, and conservation security.
The Conference is a strong supporter of continued funding levels for both food stamps and the conservation program, and has long supported common-sense adjustments in the farm-subsidy program to protect Americas family farmers while creating a more just marketplace for poor farmers in developing countries.
Our policy on these three programs and on the required Agriculture Committee cuts is complementary: the common-sense changes we call for in farm payments will result in budget savings, which can be credited towards the $3 billion in cuts while continuing to provide necessary funding for food stamps and conservation programs.
The committees will make decisions on how to allocate the cuts over the summer, for final passage by September 16.
For Further Information: