Child Nutrition-Caring for the Most Vulnerable
September 2015. This month Kristen Walling, our Justice and Peace Fellow, reflects on our scriptural call to feed the hungry, the importance of federal feeding programs, and the looming deadline for Congress to reauthorize our child nutrition laws later this month.
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:37-40)
The USDA says that 15.8 million children in the U.S. (21.6%) live in households facing a constant struggle against hunger. And while churches and nonprofits do important work to help feed hungry people in their communities, the need is far greater than we can address through individual actions. In fact, collectively food banks and private charities account for only 6 percent of food aid. A problem this wide-spread requires systemic solutions.
Our federal child nutrition programs, which include school meals, summer feeding sites, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, and the WIC nutrition program for pregnant and new mothers and their small children, have helped to feed millions of children over the decades. And they do more than merely fill kids’ bellies with healthy food. Studies have also shown that when children receive nutritious meals they are more likely to achieve academic success, economic security, proper developmental and emotional growth, and are less likely to face hospitalization, chronic health problems, and high medical costs throughout their lives.
The current law responsible for many of these initiatives, the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, needs to be reauthorized by September 30. Some of the programs included in this reauthorization are permanently authorized but need Congress to reallocate funding, while others are set to expire if Congress doesn’t act. In recent years, Congress has slashed funding for anti-poverty-and-hunger and other safety net programs and has repeatedly skirted major deadlines like this one.
Further exacerbating the challenge of feeding hungry families, the Budget Control Act of 2011 (known as Sequestration)—which initiated massive funding cuts in January 2013—is still in effect. Sequestration was originally proposed when Congress couldn’t reach an agreement over the federal budget, and it was intentionally designed to be so onerous in its across-the-board funding caps that neither progressives nor conservatives would allow it to go into effect. But it did, and here we are four years later still so gridlocked by partisan debates and brinksmanship that we haven’t been able to overturn the spending limits imposed by sequestration.
This reauthorization comes at a critical time: we are approaching an election year, and we need candidates who will unwaveringly support nutrition packages for low-income families. Candidates and current Members of Congress alike need to hear several messages from the faith community in support of child hunger alleviation. They need to be told that it is unacceptable to play politics with essential programs such as child nutrition. We must ensure that children in America have what they need to grow and learn. This absolutely cannot be a bargaining chip in negotiations over fiscal policy.
There are times when compromise helps to balance competing priorities and move our political process along, but feeding hungry children should always be a given. Nor should we simply go through the motions of reauthorizing the same programs every time they’re set to expire. Reauthorization is an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to combatting child hunger by protecting the social safety net, using sound research and data to compare and implement best practices, and expand our most effective programs.
Our scriptual call to feed the hungry is clear. UCC members overwhelmingly support federal and local feeding programs. We can and must continue to use our political power to advocate for the well being and future of all God’s children.
Want to learn more about the Child Nutrition Reauthorization and how you can be a hunger advocate? Check out these resources:
- Child Nutrition Reauthorization Primer – Food Research and Action Center
- School Breakfast: Reaching More Children, Making Breakfast Better – Food Research and Action Center
- Offering of Letters – Bread for the World
- Hunger and Food Security