Heiges: Hunger cuts across all generations

December 6, 2010 § 2 Comments

This letter appeared in the Austin-American Statesman, December 3, 2010.

During the holidays, dining room tables typically don’t display placards specifying “older adult” or “child/youth” along with the turkey and mashed potatoes. Families gather round: grandparents, parents, children, aunts, uncles and cousins.

Too many families struggle with hunger on a daily basis. We must understand hunger as an intergenerational problem, and by recognizing our intergenerational interdependence, we can solve it.

The U.S. House of Representatives has just passed the Healthy,  Hunger Free Kids Act, a bill that improves critical nutrition programs for low-income children. Over the next 10 years, the bill provides an additional $4.5 billion, strengthening nutrition programs when school is both in and out of session.

As Texans, we should be particularly excited about this legislative victory. Our state has the second worst rate of child hunger in the country, with nearly one in four children suffering from food insecurity.

Unfortunately, Congress proposes to pay for the child nutrition bill with $2.2 billion in cuts from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps).

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently released a report noting that nationally in 2009, 14.7 percent of households were food insecure, while 17.4 percent of households in Texas were food insecure — considerably more than the national average. It’s a sad irony that SNAP nourishes the same at-risk families of the same at-risk children who will benefit from the Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act.

There is hope to change this, but the window of opportunity is closing fast. During the remaining weeks of 2010, Congress must find a fix to restore the SNAP cuts and help everyone at risk of hunger.

The Capital Area Food Bank of Texas provides nearly 48,000 people per week with emergency food assistance. A Central Texas report found more than a third of older clients go for extended periods without food. Food Bank’s partner agencies see an increase in hunger lines, and older adults are in those lines. Through its Drive to End Hunger, AARP places a spotlight on growing numbers of food insecure older adults grappling with the effects of the recession. This year, approximately 6 million older Americans will have struggled with food insecurity. From 2001 to 2007, Texas ranked No. 4 among states with people age 60-90 at risk of hunger.

Older adults who lost their jobs and live on limited incomes often have to make grim decisions between buying food and medicine. Inadequate amounts of nutritious food prevent the absorption of some medicines, further compounding health problems. Many are doing the heroic work of heading multigenerational households and raising grandchildren. Hunger cuts across all generations.

People at risk of hunger make very hard choices, and they aren’t making them at a buffet table. Congress must immediately act to restore SNAP cuts to nourish the millions of people at risk of hunger. It helped hungry children — let’s help their families, too.

Wendy Heiges is senior director of advocacy and public policy at the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas.


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