16 Million Kids Experience the Indignity of Hunger in America

Sixteen Million Kids Experience the Indignity of Hunger in America – Speaker Ryan’s Proposal to Block The School Meal Program will Make that Worse!   

By Jessica Bartholow  

This year, Congress has been considering the reauthorization of the Nation’s Child Nutrition programs.  With insight from the Congressional debate during the reauthorization of the Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the federal Agricultural Act of 2014, we knew this debate would be meager, not include the voices of families experiencing hunger and, in the end, fall far too short to offer a meaningful response to the crisis of millions of Americans, 16 Million of them children, experiencing hunger.

But what actually happened was even worse: Not only did House Speaker Paul Ryan and the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee fail to introduce legislation to limit harm to the millions of children experiencing hunger, they have introduced the House Child Nutrition Reauthorization (H.R. 5003), which makes it worse. This legislation proposes removing national entitlement and protections in the National School Lunch Program, dismantling it by allowing it to be block-granted. As it turns out, this was just step one in his plan, detailed this week, to block grant our country’s most significant anti-hunger safety-net programs.

During the reauthorization, Congress heard from anti-hunger advocates, like me, that even one experience of poverty-induced hunger can have a life-chance-robbing impact on a child. They were twitter-tagged, emailed, facebooked, called and written letters citing the abundant academic research showing that hungry children are sick more often, hospitalized at alarming rates and more likely to suffer developmental impairments that limit their physical, intellectual and emotional development as a result.

While I expected our lawmakers consider this evidence in their deliberation, I hoped that they would have also considered this equally important point: poverty-induced hunger is a brutal indignity that no one should experience, especially not a child in America. There is no footnote for this. I know this because I have experienced it.

Sure, these early adversities have made me strong and wise in ways that others who haven’t been equally insulted by the lack of a basic need in a country with such abundance, but there is rarely a day that I don’t shutter with the memory of childhood deprivation and the distress of knowing that 16 million children in our country will experience the same backhand of America’s promise this year.  While hunger will not rob the life opportunities of all of these children, why should any of them have to experience it?

There used to be a time in America, when child hunger was something none of us would stand for. I hope that people will join me and hundreds of organizations across the country in calling on federal lawmakers to strengthen, not weaken, national anti-hunger programs and to oppose H.R. 5003. Then, I hope that we will work hard and hope hard for a National Dialog that brings us back to a shared commitment to end child hunger.