Guest blogger, Joel Berg, on hunger in Texas
February 16, 2009 § 2 Comments
Texas Needs a New Kind of Anti-Hunger Plan
as written by Joel Berg
Texas has a definite hunger problem.
In 2005-2007, 14.8 percent of Texas residents were food insecure (one or two setbacks away from hunger) and 5 percent were very food insecure (the designation formally known as “hungry”). This makes it the third worst state in food insecurity (after Mississippi and New Mexico) and the second worst state in terms of hunger (after Mississippi). And these figures don’t even take into account the recent economic meltdown.
There are many reasons why Texas has a particularly high hunger rate, but the largest reason is that it has one of the nation’s highest rates of poverty.
It has become increasingly clear that the nation’s and state’s systems of dedicated but under-funded feeding charities, including the Capital Area Food Bank, one of the most innovative and effective food banks in the nation, can’t solve the problem when government is falling down on its job.
The good news is that for the first time in history we have a president who grew-up in a family that received food stamp benefits and who promises to end child hunger in the United States within his first six years in office (a pledge recently reinforced by his new Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack).
In a nationwide, bipartisan poll by McLaughlin & Associates and Freedman Consulting conducted on election night, 73 percent of Americans said they supported ending child hunger by 2015, even if it meant paying a bit more in taxes.
Certainly a good down payment on accomplishing that goal is the economic recovery bill, which will provide the largest investment in new nutrition assistance funding in decades, including a huge hike in food stamp (recently re-named SNAP) benefits totaling nearly $20 billion – yes billion – extra; more nutrition funding for low-income pregnant women and their children; more food for food banks, soup kitchens and food pantries; and a boost in dollars for emergency food and shelter programs.
Yet, in the long run, the American people won’t likely support providing large sums of money to simply expand existing government programs that they believe are overly bureaucratic and insufficiently reliable.
That’s why the new president needs a new type of hunger plan that should focus on three compelling themes: self-interest, reform and transparency.
Hunger costs our nation an estimated $90 billion a year because of decreased work productivity, stunted educational performance, and increased health care spending (according to a Harvard study). We must stress that ending hunger and improving child nutrition would be one of the most effective tools to boost the nation’s international economic competitiveness.
The federal government currently sponsors more than a dozen different nutritional assistance programs. Each has its own application process and bureaucracy at the federal, state and local levels. Over the last few decades, these programs have succeeded in all-but-wiping-out Third World starvation in America. But they need to be reformed and adapted to the needs of a new century. This bewildering patchwork of programs makes it more difficult for families to get the help they need and wastes taxpayer dollars. All these programs should be combined into one streamlined food benefit, available to eligible families through one simple application available online or locally. And we must make it easier for low-income children to obtain nutritious school breakfasts, after-school snacks and summer meals.
Finally, the federal anti-hunger efforts should be more transparent to taxpayers. President Obama should ask Secretary Vilsack for specific yearly goals for hunger reduction and nutrition improvement, and ask Congress to give the Secretary the resources necessary to meet them. Additional federal funds should also be set aside for states, cities, counties, Indian tribes, and faith-based and secular non-profit groups that enact innovative anti-hunger solutions of proven effectiveness.
By taking such steps, we can finally end hunger in Texas, and all of America.
Interested in taking action?
Join us at the Central Texas Advocacy Forum, where Joel Berg and others will speak.
Feb., 18 from 1-4 p.m.
George Washington Carver Museum