01/27/2011 03:56 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Protecting the Programs That Protect the Hungry

In the State of the Union Address and the Republican Response that followed, President Obama and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (WI) both spoke about the difficult choices the Administration and Congress will need to make about cutting spending and raising taxes as they try to balance the federal budget. As our nation's leaders prepare to undertake this daunting and critical task, I am concerned about how low-income families will fare if critical nutrition assistance and other low-income programs are cut.

As I listened, I thought about how millions of families across the nation make the same difficult choice every day to stretch their own budgets. And while some have the means to be able to cut back a little here so that they can put a little more money there, I think about the people who turn to the Feeding America network because they have nowhere else to cut -- the ones who have dipped into their food budget so that they can afford to pay for rent, or heat or medicine; the ones whose struggles to put food on the table were only made worse by the recession.

Economic data shows that our economy is growing again, but as the President states, our progress as a nation is also measured by how well our people are doing. And right now, too many of its people are unable to make ends meet. With more than 50 million Americans facing hunger, nutrition programs like SNAP, WIC, and emergency food providers and other assistance programs are keeping our most vulnerable neighbors from going hungry.

Now is not the time to cut critical support to vulnerable families, including nutrition assistance and other safety net programs. I was grateful Tuesday night to hear both parties affirm the bipartisan principle of safeguarding our most vulnerable people. In his address, President Obama remarked that balancing the budget must not be done "on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens." In the Republican Response, Chairman Ryan said a guiding principle in the budget debate is "to help provide a safety net for those who cannot provide for themselves."

As the President said, "the future is ours to win." In order to win it, we must ensure that economic recovery in the short-term and economic security in the long-term is an opportunity available for all. We each have a shared stake in restoring our nation's prosperity, and to be successful, that prosperity and opportunity must be shared.

Just like the millions of families across the country who are reevaluating their priorities and making adjustments in their household budgets, our leaders, too, are in a conversation about our national priorities and the federal budget. As the Administration and Congress make decisions this year about where to cut or freeze spending, we urge them to safeguard low-income families by protecting the programs that keep them fed.