This time of year, alot of folks finally start to pay attention to the amount of hunger we have in this country. That hunger and "food insecurity" as it is known goes on all year but it makes us feel good to focus on it during this "giving" season. John Edwards has released a six-point plan for combatting hunger in this country that does more than simply feed folks a good holiday meal. The plan goes a long way in addressing some of the core institutional ways in which this country can address hunger year-round. This is what Edwards plans to do:
Today, as American families begin to gather together to celebrate Thanksgiving, John Edwards laid out a six-point plan to address widespread hunger. He released new proposals to expand food stamps and other food aid for low-income families, children and seniors. He will also help families struggling with home heating costs and improve access to healthy food in every community .
1. Pass a Farm Bill with Strong Nutrition Programs: The nutrition programs in the Farm Bill are critical to increasing food security in America. Just two programs - food stamps and the Emergency Food Assistance Program for food banks - help about 25 million Americans a year each. Unfortunately, federal funding has not kept pace with growing need and rising costs. Last week, Senate Republicans used a filibuster to block the farm bill, sending Congress home for Thanksgiving without helping overtaxed food banks or hungry families. Edwards believes that Congress should quickly pass a strong and fair farm bill with robust funding for federal nutrition programs and President Bush should sign it. [ASH, 2007]
2. Get Food Aid to More Eligible Families: Food stamps - cash assistance averaging only about $1 per person per meal - help families purchase food and provide nearly a two-to-one benefit for the local economy. But one out of every three eligible families is not enrolled in the program, including millions of families who visit food banks and other community food services. Edwards will expand a pilot program, Express Stamps, which provides online enrollment kiosks at local food pantries. He will expand alternative hours at food stamp eligibility offices so that working families can enroll without missing work. To modernize eligibility and benefits, Edwards believes that Congress should quickly pass reforms to raise the minimum benefit level (which has remained at $10 since 1977), allow families to deduct their actual child care costs and protect families with modest retirement or education savings so they do not have to chose between putting food on the table and their longer-term need of preparing for the future. [CBPP, 2007; USDA, 2006 and 2007]
3. Provide Healthy Meals for Children: The 12 million American children who go hungry are 90 percent more likely to be in fair or poor health, have 30 percent higher hospitalization rates, and have lower test scores, attendance and other academic indicators. As president, Edwards will ensure robust funding to meet the nutritional needs of low-income school children through school breakfasts, free and reduced lunches, after-school snacks, fruit and vegetable programs, and the critical but under-used Summer Food Program. [Cook et al., 2004; Frongillo et al., 2005]
4. Strengthen Food Support for Seniors: One in six low-income elderly families does not have a regular, reliable source of enough to eat. President Bush has repeatedly proposed eliminating funding for the critical Commodity Supplemental Food program, which delivers nutritious food packages to nearly half a million seniors in 32 states and two Indian territories. Edwards will strengthen support for this program and expand other supportive services including Meals-on-Wheels for seniors and people with disabilities. [CBPP, 2007]
5. Address the "Heat or Eat" Crisis: Nearly half of the families served by the nation's food banks have been forced to choose between paying for food and paying for utilities or heating fuel. Without assistance, even more families will struggle with this winter's anticipated record home heating prices. Today, Edwards called on President Bush and Congress to fully fund the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program -- nearly doubling it to $5.1 billion - and adjust the standard utility allowance in food stamp eligibility rules to reflect soaring prices. He will help states implement new low- and no-interest consumer loan programs through states and non-profits and double the funding for weatherizing homes. He also has a plan to fight rising oil and gas prices by creating energy competition, reducing speculation in the oil and gas markets, and bringing down demand through greater building conservation, fuel efficiency and access to renewable sources. [ASH, 2006; EIA, 2007]
6. Support Food Access in Every Neighborhood: Wealthy neighborhoods have over three times as many supermarkets as non-wealthy neighborhoods. Small corner stores are usually more expensive and offer less nutritious food. Food-insecure families in rural areas often face high transportation costs to reach the nearest food pantries. As president, Edwards will launch a public-private partnership to bring fresh, nutritious food to new neighborhoods. He will create a national food access map that identifies neighborhoods lacking grocery stores, emergency food banks and regular access to fresh produce. His new Healthy Neighborhoods Seed Fund will offer needy communities challenge grants for projects including full-service supermarkets, community gardens and food stamp-friendly farmers' markets. [PolicyLink, 2005]
As Edwards points out, we do not have to wait until he is in office to do something. For this reason, the Edwards campaign has rolled out what they call the OneCan campaign:
Each one of us, in our way, can help change America for the better over this holiday season.
John Edwards is asking Americans to volunteer. Be the change you believe in.
1. Volunteer 1 hour or more to fight hunger,
2. donate 1 can or more to a local food bank,
3. donate 1 toy for a child --
4. and call on 1 friend or family member to do the same.
To my way of thinking, these small suggestions should be the least of what we do, but they are a place to start.