According to new data released this morning from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, last year 50 million Americans struggled with hunger. More than 16 million of these Americans, or more than one out of five, were kids.
The USDA's food insecurity numbers confirm that a humanitarian crisis looms within our own borders that can no longer be ignored. The crisis of childhood hunger in particular is putting at risk a generation of our youngest Americans, our national education goals and our economic competitiveness.
Yet childhood hunger hasn't been a major topic of conversation for many politicians this campaign season. Recently, actor Jeff Bridges brought the issue to the political conventions in Tampa and Charlotte. Childhood hunger is a bipartisan problem and it requires a bipartisan solution. We were able connect with Democrats and Republicans alike about the importance of the No Kid Hungry campaign's work to end childhood hunger.
In an economic environment that affords little likelihood of new spending, the No Kid Hungry campaign -- endorsed by more than a dozen Governors of both parties -- affords the best chance of ensuring that children get the nutritious food they need. Existing programs such as school lunch, school breakfast, summer meals, and SNAP become ever more crucial lifelines to families with children who have nowhere else to turn.
Still, there is a pressing need for both candidates to put forth proposals that specifically address hunger and its root cause: historic levels of poverty. This compelling evidence that hunger is more widespread than previously understood is a necessary reminder that behind the campaign rhetoric, charges and countercharges, and photo-ops that define presidential elections, there are millions of Americans suffering from truly shocking deprivation of the most basic resources essential for survival. Consider these findings from the report:
- Childhood hunger remains a serious problem. The 2011 numbers are part of a record-high, four-year trend for the 17 years in which the federal government has tracked this statistic. Households with children (20.6 percent) are more likely than households without children (9.9 percent) to struggle with hunger and households with young children under the age of 6 struggle the most (21.9 percent).
- For American families, hunger is a chronic problem. According to the USDA data, one-fourth of food-insecure households had trouble putting food on the table for seven months out of the year.
- These numbers also show the value and need for federal nutrition programs like school breakfast, summer meals and SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps). About 57 percent of food-insecure households reported receiving assistance from one or more of the three largest federal food and nutrition assistance programs.
Without the food and nutrition they need to learn and grow, vulnerable children face increased health, education and employment challenges.
Simply put, we cannot have a stronger America with weaker kids.
Ending poverty, and reversing unemployment may be complex, but feeding a child is not. With a proven record of adding tens of thousands of children to food and nutrition programs in more than a dozen states, the No Kid Hungry campaign has shown what public-private partnerships and bipartisanship can be achieved. Political leaders, business leaders and community activists should respond to the USDA's report by coming together to ensure that the No Kid Hungry strategy is embraced everywhere.
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