Quick Take: Elected Officials Must Step Up to Fight Hunger

“Clearly, we need to improve our current programs but we also need to address the root causes of hunger and make sure that we are counting and supporting the most vulnerable citizens of America,” — Mariana Chilton, PhD, MPH, associate professor and director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities in the Dornsife School of Public Health, testimony before the House Committee on Agriculture.

Chilton testify
Chilton testifying Wednesday before the House Committee on Agriculture.

Creating opportunities for higher quality jobs and improving upon existing programs should be the top priorities of the leadership of the United States in addressing hunger, Chilton told the House Committee on Agriculture Wednesday in Washington.

The hearing she participated in was one of many the House committee is conducting in its review of the Special Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — commonly known as food stamps. As the co-chair of the National Commission on Hunger, Chilton, along with her co-chair, Robert Doar, shared a preview of the upcoming report meant to advise Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture on addressing hunger in America.

(See the joint testimony from Chilton and Doar here.)

To help prepare their new report, Chilton and Doar traveled across the country, visiting places like Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, New York and Maine to run field hearings and conduct site visits to learn about regional differences in the experience of hunger.

Chilton recalled the testimony of Saleema Akbar, a Washington, D.C., resident who suffers from osteo-arthritis, fibromyalgia and diabetes. Akbar is one of the 46 million Americans who benefit from SNAP. Her conditions make it pertinent to keep protein in her diet, but her SNAP benefits aren’t enough to consistently buy it.

“Ms. Akbar’s testimony reveals to us two things. Number one: Like her, the vast majority of the people who experience hunger are already vulnerable. They are made vulnerable by their physical and mental health, or perhaps by historical circumstance, or they are incapable of coping with the stress of poverty,” Chilton testified. “Number two: While it is absolutely true that we have very effective nutritional support and other programs for low-income families, there are still many people who are missed, discounted or uncounted through our current structures.”

Among those who are slipping through the cracks, according to Chilton, are veterans. She said 12 percent of the nation’s Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have reported hunger, and a significant population of active-duty military service members are also struggling with hunger.

Hunger carries an increased probability for serious health consequences, Chilton testified. It is particularly harmful to children under three years old, and could carry lifelong physical, emotional, social and/or cognitive effects.

Chilton and Doar both said the key to solving hunger is to focus on eliminating poverty, which can be done by increasing work opportunities and allowing for an easier, longer transition for families off of SNAP.

“It turns out that very low food security is reported by people on the upper echelon earning a little bit more than some others,” Chilton said. “Because they’re doing a good job, they got a raise, and they’re losing their food stamps too soon before they’re able to adjust to the new income.”

Allowing for states to try pilot programs to address hunger or increase work opportunities would also be beneficial to the cause, Chilton believes.

Overall, strong leadership is required from the country’s national elected officials.

“We need to have a national plan to end hunger,” Chilton said, “and this requires ongoing leadership from the White House.”

Members of the media interested in speaking with Chilton should contact Frank Otto at fmo26@drexel.edu or 215.571.4244.

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