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Too Many Mouths To Feed, Too Little Money

Families Need Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

Susan Campbell

October 03, 2010

Though we're told the Great Recession ended months ago, try putting a sandwich on the table and see if people fight over it.

At issue in Washington are two bills one in the House and one in the Senate that seek to revise a host of federal nutrition initiatives, including programs for school lunches, breakfasts, and summer food programs.

New numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau say that 31 states saw increases in the number and percentage of people in poverty between 2008 and 2009. No state saw a statistically significant decline in either the number of people living in poverty, or in states' poverty rates, says the Washington-based Food Research and Action Center. Between 2007 and 2009, even filthy-rich Connecticut (land of more than a handful of billionaires) recorded a 44 percent increase of Connecticut households on food assistance. That's 107,127 households up from 74,637.

Something must be done, but at issue is how precisely to do that. Members of Congress are off politicking in preparation for November's election. With the hot breath of dissatisfied voters on their necks, representatives and senators are increasingly cautious about spending money, even if it's money that must be spent.

Look: You can talk all you want about personal responsibility, but meanwhile? People need to eat, and children need to go to class with full bellies. If you're comfortable letting them fend for themselves, I am not, and neither are the movers and shakers in Washington. First Lady Michelle Obama favors healthy school lunches as part of her Let's Move! program, but key Democrats have declined to approve a Senate bill because it's funded by cutting benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP formerly known as food stamps. Maybe those benefits would be restored later, but then again, maybe not.

Last week, Politico called the situation a food fight.

"What you're doing is you're helping kids get better meals by taking meals away from low-income families," said Lucy Nolan, executive director of End Hunger Connecticut!, a state anti-hunger advocacy group. Paul, say hello to Peter. Do you take food out of the mouth of poor families to put food into the mouths of children? Even if those groups sometimes overlap, the proposed changes would reduce SNAP benefits to Connecticut families including 136,665 children - by an average of $59 per month, per family, says Nolan. And $59 is a huge bite from the food budget if you're barely scraping by.

It's hard to overstate the importance of SNAP to struggling families, but when the prevailing attitude among elected officials is to look budget-conscious at all costs, someone most likely someone who's vulnerable already will suffer.

"This makes me realize just how people don't get it - how important SNAP is to a family's well-being, including intake of more nutritious foods, and helping with food insecurity and obesity," said Nolan. "Kids and families need both - good food at school and adequate food at home - not one or the other."

Already this year, says Nolan, a bill reduced SNAP benefits by $11.9 billion by proposing to end the rather new economic recovery act's monthly benefits three years early. The Senate bill reduces SNAP benefits by another $2 billion. Writing for The Hill, FRAC's president Jim Weill said that George Orwell would appreciate the irony.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, (D-New Haven), says that all parties are committed to passing a good bill with adequate funding, perhaps after the election.

"There is general agreement that what we want to do is pass the best nutrition bill that we can," said DeLauro. "This legislation is about getting children who are eligible to be participating, and to have access. It's about addressing the quality of food that youngsters are getting. That's why the consensus was 'Let's try to get this done and let's do it in the best way possible.'"

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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