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Welcome Back Congress, We're Hungry for Your Leadership

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At some point in the muggy slowness that is Washington DC, once Congress left town for August recess, I thought I was going to have time to walk a bit slower, think a little deeper and take stock of the year so far.

But August just isn't what it used to be here in the nation's capital. I feel like it's been one long, heavy month that started June 1st and won't let up even with September underway.

June started out great! June 8 was the day governments, NGOs, businesses and the World Bank came together in London for the Nutrition for Growth Summit to galvanize new investments in global nutrition efforts, and finally light a spark under the long-neglected fight against child undernutrition.

It was a moment decades in the making. Data from the Lancet had shown undernutrition underpins almost half of all child deaths -- that's 3.1 million children lost every year. Millions more children who survive this constant deprivation live with compromised immune systems and permanently stunted brains and bodies -- inhibiting their individual potential and the long-term stability and growth of their families, communities and countries.

In June, I felt elated and relieved to have participated in this landmark shift in attention. It was a great moment to join with other advocates around the world to shine a light on the criminal neglect of children.

But then the light moved on and the hard work started. Efforts to improve the policies, country-level plans and accountability frameworks -- that will ensure the more than $4 billion in commitments reach the people who need them -- continue to ramp up.

As the global conversation moved on, I looked a little closer to home and learned that budget debates in the U.S. Congress about the future of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) mean that the struggle for basic nutrition here in the U.S. is at a pivotal moment. In current budget negotiations, SNAP is at risk of facing massive cuts that would have a real impact on the nutrition of U.S. children.

SNAP acts as the United States' frontline defense against hunger, providing a monthly benefit to eligible low-income families that can be used to purchase food. The largest program in the U.S. domestic hunger safety net, half of all children in the U.S. will, at some point, have to rely on federal assistance for food.

The evidence shows SNAP is necessary (half of all children in the U.S. will benefit from SNAP at some point!) and that it works.

In 2011, SNAP succeeded in lifting 4.7 million people above the poverty line, including about 2.1 million children. SNAP is also extremely cost-effective. Hunger costs the U.S. economy about $167 billion a year in illness, poor educational outcomes and charitable contributions, while every $1 of SNAP benefits generate $1.79 in economic activity. In 2012, SNAP helped many households affected by Hurricanes Isaac and Sandy.

Political debates on SNAP however have avoided this evidence -- or even a serious discussion of U.S. children's health -- and instead degraded into a political battlefield. Journalist Greg Kaufmann from The Nation put it best when he called recent politicking on SNAP the, "Congressional Hunger Games."

Which would be funny, if it wasn't true.

SNAP is a safety net. It catches my neighbors. It returns on its investment.

It doesn't matter to me whether a child is malnourished in South Sudan or Southeast Washington DC -- it's unacceptable either way.

Congress is now back in session and the games are on. A vote that could force four to six million people off SNAP could take place next week. Let's hope this vote is not greeted by the mix of recklessness and silence that has gotten us to this point.

Let's hope some vision and commitment -- demonstrated on the world stage in London when the long, muggy month of Junejulyaugust began can inspire the U.S. Congress to get back in touch with the needs of children and families -- is right here in the U.S.

Kolleen Bouchane is the director of ACTION, a global partnership of advocacy organizations working to influence policy and mobilize resources to fight diseases of poverty and improve equitable access to health services.