The Senate's passage of its child nutrition bill, Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 (S. 3307), would improve upon existing child anti-hunger programs, such as school breakfast and lunch, after school food programs, and the WIC program. While the improvements to the nutritional quality of foods provided by our child nutrition programs is a strong step forward, there are two key shortfalls to the legislation that the House should consider before taking up the Senate bill when Congress reconvenes in September.
First, the Senate bill makes strong investments in improved nutrition but does not make needed investments in program access. The Senate bill makes an important change to expand afterschool suppers nationwide and would facilitate enrollment in free school meals, but it does little to address other gap periods when children are known to lack access to food: breakfast, weekends, and summer. Despite the bill's improvements to nutritional quality, we cannot make real progress against child hunger and childhood obesity if we fail to connect children to the programs.
Second, the Senate's bill is partially paid for from another important family-assistance program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ("SNAP," the former Food Stamp Program). SNAP serves more than 40 million low-income Americans each month, half of them children. Cutting food assistance for families to pay for food assistance for children is essentially robbing Peter to pay Paul, as 107 members of Congress wrote in a recent letter to Speaker Pelosi. And in this case, Peter is children like Daniel, who will continue to lack access to nutritious food when he's away from school. Sadly, Daniel's story is an everyday occurrence across the country, everyday.
In today's time of increased need when children are suffering from hunger, especially during weekends and summer months when school food programs are unavailable, the Senate child nutrition bill is inadequate to end child hunger. The unassailable fact is that nearly 17 million children struggle with hunger. It is absolutely unacceptable that as I write this, there are children contemplating what they will have - or when they will have - their next meal. It is inconceivable that in the 21st century, children continue to be at risk of hunger in our great country when solutions exist.
What kind of society are we if we allow Congress to pass up an opportunity to reduce hunger for the one in four children who don't have enough to eat?
As CEO of Feeding America, I have borne witness to the ubiquity of hunger. It is a too often invisible problem across America that is not disappearing. Many of us fail to appreciate the frequency or immensity of its occurrence unless or until it hits close to home. Today's dire and growing hunger reality demands that Congress enact a fully funded child nutrition bill, and to do so without supplanting the resources of existing family-assistance programs for which there is a continued and escalating need.
The House has an opportunity to do better, and each of us should call upon our Representatives in the House to do so. Rather than take up the Senate-passed bill, the House should move its own bill. The House Education and Labor Committee approved a strong bill in July, the Improving Nutrition for America's Children Act of 2010 (H.R.5504). This bill includes the same improvements to nutritional quality as the Senate bill but does far more to invest in increased program access. The House bill would significantly increase access to food at breakfast, afterschool, on weekends, and during the summer. Children need access to food every day, before, during, and after school, and the House provides much-needed improvements to address these gap periods.
Every five years, there is an opportunity to improve and reauthorize the federal child nutrition programs. The Feeding America network, fellow anti-hunger advocates, members of Congress and the administration have been working to enact the strongest possible bill. In this budget climate and with great needs facing our country, some are ready to call it a day. Some argue that the Senate bill is the best bill we can get through the Senate this year, and consider that reason enough for the House to simply pass the Senate bill rather than working to improve it. Until the legislation makes further investments in program access, it's not good enough for hungry kids and it shouldn't be good enough for Congress.
Join us now to urge the Congress to fully and responsibly fund the child nutrition bill. Congress needs to do the right thing. No child should ever go hungry.
Follow Vicki B. Escarra on Twitter: www.twitter.com/vickiescarra