12/05/2012 06:27 pm ET Updated Feb 04, 2013

Mr. President, Keep Your Child Hunger Pledge

Low-income voters had the president's back. Now is the time for him to have theirs.

From 2008 through 2011, the U.S. poverty rate rose by 16 percent. A staggering 46 million Americans are now poor, a reality that Obama steadfastly avoided addressing in the campaign.

Yet, according to exit polls, 63 percent of those living in households earning below $30,000 voted for the President, compared to only 47 percent for those earning $50,000 or more. Had it not been for poor people, Obama would have lost in a landslide.

The most vulnerable Americans often have little left other than hope, and they again placed that hope in the president. Obama owes them -- and indeed, owes the entire nation -- a renewed national commitment to increasing economic opportunity for the most vulnerable.

In 2008, then-candidate Obama pledged to lead an effort to cut U.S. poverty in half within a decade. He should recommit to that goal, and ensure that his economic policies place a laser-like focus on creating living wage jobs in low-income urban, rural, and suburban communities nationwide.

The president must keep another 2008 pledge: to end U.S. child hunger by 2015.

The number of U.S. children that lived in households suffering from food insecurity or hunger rose by 37 percent between 2008 and 2011, according to USDA. About 17 million American children -- one in five -- live in food insecure homes.

Food deprivation in the world's wealthiest nation is not only morally unacceptable, but it also severely hampers children's emotional, intellectual, and physical development, and it strongly hinders the upward mobility of their parents. Not only is ending child hunger a prerequisite for halving poverty, it is essential if the president wants to achieve his other major goal of improving public education.

Because food insecure families are often forced to obtain cheaper food that is less nutritious, hunger and obesity are flip sides of the same malnutrition coin. The first lady's anti-obesity goals can only be achieved if all children have consistent access to nutritious, affordable food.

Child hunger costs the U.S. economy at least $28 billion per year because poorly nourished kids perform less well in school and require far more long-term health care spending. Yes, ending child hunger will require additional government funding, along with dramatically expanded public-private partnerships. But solving the problem will cost far less than not solving it.

Many pundits argued that Obama was mistaken to pursue comprehensive health care during a recession. They said it was too expensive, complicated, or distracting. Some will say the same thing about ending child hunger. But the president argued, correctly, that there was no way to fix the long-term U.S economy without fixing health care. He should make the same argument about child hunger. No economic superpower in the history of the world has remained a superpower if it is has failed to feed it own children.

In the 1970s, Sen. George McGovern, a liberal Democrat from South Dakota, and Sen. Robert Dole, a conservative Republican from Kansas, forged a congressional consensus across party and ideological lines. They gained support from Presidents Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter to create the modern nutrition assistance safety net (including the Food Stamp, WIC, and School Breakfast programs) over the span of less than a decade.

These federal efforts succeeded spectacularly. In 1979, Field Foundation investigators found a massive reduction in hunger in the U.S. communities that previously had the highest rates, and concluded that the government programs "made the difference." We then retreated from these efforts and child hunger again soared.

If Washington wants to prove that bipartisanship is more than an empty slogan, it must once again solve big problems like child hunger. As a start, the president should call on Congress to stop proposed cuts -- and reverse already implemented cuts -- in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamp benefits, half of which go to children. If Republicans want to save their party from sliding into oblivion, they will agree.

Next, the president should hold a bipartisan White House Summit on Hunger to launch a coordinated government, private sector, nonprofit sector, and citizen service plan to solve the problem. He should ask Mitt Romney to co-chair it.

The president often cites the Dr. King quote that the arc of history "bends towards justice." But Dr. King also said, "What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn't earn enough money to buy a hamburger?"

To build a just and prosperous America, the president must guarantee that all U.S. kids have enough to eat. To sign a petition asking him to do so, go to