The following op-ed appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on September 21, 2011, by Kathy Fisher, Carey Morgan, and CLS Attorney Jonathan Stein
A recent report by the Food Research and Action Center found that more than one in five Pennsylvania families with children struggle to put food on the table. Members of Congress expressed shock and indignation at the findings. Rep. Bob Brady (D., Pa.), who represents a district where nearly half the families are at risk of hunger, said the report shone a “glaring spotlight” on the hardship American children are experiencing.
As bleak as the figures were, though, the report shouldn’t have been news to anyone who’s picked up a newspaper since the start of the recession – let alone anyone representing Pennsylvania in Congress. The study merely confirmed what lawmakers should know full well: that tens of thousands of families in their districts can’t afford the food they need.
The real outrage here is that even though members of Congress pay lip service to protecting American children, they have been chipping away at the nutritional programs that keep millions of kids from going hungry every day.
The House recently voted to slash $127 billion from the nation’s most important antihunger program, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (formerly food stamps), which according to one study helps feed one in two Americans at some point during their childhood. The House also voted to slice $733 million from the Women, Infants, and Children program, which helps more than a quarter-million Pennsylvania mothers and children afford milk, cereal, and fresh produce. These cuts would come on top of another $1 trillion in discretionary spending cuts under the recent debt-ceiling deal, which will limit the reach of other nutritional programs well into the future.
What happens if Congress fails to protect SNAP, WIC, and other nutritional programs? All Americans, hungry or not, will pay the price in the years to come. Growing up without enough food can devastate children physically and psychologically. Hunger threatens their health and development and robs them of the ability to reach their full potential.
Over the next few months, partisan rhetoric will no doubt continue to consume Congress as an appointed “super-committee” devises a plan to further trim the budget deficit. As a member of the committee, Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) is in a unique position to represent all Pennsylvania families and confirm the nation’s long-term commitment to its children. As a businessman and strong supporter of economic growth, he must also understand that the country will not thrive if we don’t invest in our children. Cutting federal nutrition programs will make hunger and malnutrition more common and more deeply rooted in our communities, draining our economy, stunting child development, and increasing suffering.
No matter how divisive the debate becomes, we must hold our elected officials accountable for keeping the interests of our children at the center of their decisions. If we don’t, America will soon find that a generation of undernourished kids is struggling as adults.
Kathy Fisher is family and economic security associate for Public Citizens for Children and Youth. Carey Morgan is executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger. Jonathan Stein is general counsel for Community Legal Services.