One in five children in America lives with hunger, and about the same percentage lives in poverty. We would hope that Congress would respond to this urgent threat to our future with a bold plan to protect kids. Instead, the U.S. House of Representatives may soon consider legislation that would make both problems worse. The good news is that U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry can help.
The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps) is an investment in child nutrition. Forty-seven cents of every SNAP dollar goes to feed children, and SNAP makes it possible for 20 million children -- including more than 83,000 in Nebraska -- to get the food they need to grow up healthy and stay focused in school. Especially now, SNAP has been a lifeline for children battered by tough times, as parents who never before faced such obstacles have been forced to choose between paying the rent and putting food on the table.
SNAP is also a proven defense against poverty. More and more American families are getting by on less and less these days. And knowing that SNAP is there to make groceries more affordable, letting parents pay the rent, put gas in the car and meet their children’s other basic needs. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says SNAP reduced the severity of child poverty by 27 percent in 2009.
SNAP works. It does its job: it protects children from hunger and poverty. The current proposal from the House of Representatives is to cut $16 billion from SNAP. They say children won’t suffer -- that they’re just “closing loopholes.” But that just doesn’t add up. Nearly half of every SNAP dollar goes to children, and their plan would mean billions fewer SNAP dollars, so the only logical conclusion is that this dangerous plan will mean more children living with hunger and more children crushed by poverty.
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When you consider that proponents of these SNAP cuts also are cutting national investments in child care, children’s health, the Child Tax Credit and child abuse prevention and response, it raises serious questions about the priorities of our nation’s leaders. For most people -- and for all parents -- the short definition of progress is when children are better off than their parents. When a family falls on hard times, no responsible parent’s first budget solution would be denying food to his or her children. No responsible government should solve budget problems that way, either.
Yes, the federal government has serious budget problems. But hungry children didn’t cause them, and cutting child nutrition is the wrong way to solve them.
This debate will soon come to a head, as the House considers SNAP funding as part of updated “Farm Bill” legislation. And, as a member of the House committee that writes the Farm Bill, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry can help. The Senate has rejected SNAP cuts similar in focus and scale to those proposed by the House. We urge Rep. Fortenberry and others in Nebraska’s congressional delegation to protect child nutrition.
Voters elect lawmakers to solve the problems children face, not to make them worse. Once our leaders in Congress have put these shortsighted SNAP cuts aside, they can get on with the serious business of finding real budget solutions that don’t deny Nebraska children the food they need to grow and thrive.
Carolyn D. Rooker is executive director of Voices for Children in Nebraska. Bruce Lesley is president of First Focus Campaign for Children.