Hunger in U.S. Solvable: Hunger Commission’s Final Report

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MomKidFoodThe National Commission on Hunger released its final report Monday, detailing the myriad causes of hunger in the United States that range from under-employment to racism while also providing concrete steps forward that could combat low food security for years to come.

Mariana Chilton, PhD, associate professor in Drexel’s Dornsife School of Public Health and director of the University’s Center for Hunger-Free Communities, co-chaired the nine-member commission with Robert Doar, Morgridge fellow in poverty studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

“People are hungry because they do not have the resources to purchase the food they need,” Chilton explained. “The key to addressing hunger is ensuring that people who can work have access to jobs that pay a living wage, have stable work hours and other work support like paid sick days and child care. Our nutrition assistance programs can also do more to help to support those who are able to work.”

Hunger in the United States touches 6.9 million households (5.6 percent of households across the United States), according to the commission’s report. Addressing food security is clearly not a one-agency job.

“Our report touches on the root causes of hunger, such as disability, exposure to violence, low-quality education, and the legacy of racism and discrimination in housing, access to jobs and criminal justice,” Chilton said. “These are things that need the attention of other agencies such as the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Education, Department of Labor and the Department of Health and Human Services.”

Established in June 2014, the National Commission on Hunger traveled across the country to hold public hearings and speak with experts and members of the public alike. Their mission was to develop policy recommendations as well as suggestions for reforming government food assistance programs.

As a result of their work, the commission’s report (the full text of which can be read here) makes 20 recommendations for changes to combat hunger and the issues that lead to it.

Chilton, who testified before the House Agriculture Committee in November, said the commission’s recommendations have support from both sides of the aisle.

“We know that members of Congress do not want to see hunger increase, and here we have outlined a way forward with bi-partisan support,” she said. “These recommendations transcend politics. We want the recommendations to be a beacon to members of Congress. We are showing a clear way forward.”

Half of the recommendations center around the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), largely known as Food Stamps. They included:

  • Having the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Labor collaborate to provide job-skills training and case administration for those who are out of work.
  • Allowing for a phase-out of SNAP benefits when the earnings cap is reached, as opposed to an abrupt end which could pitch a household back into hunger.
  • Developing incentives for using SNAP benefits to purchase healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and high-quality proteins.
  • Practicing flexibility within the law to encourage states to apply for SNAP waivers and demonstrations to come up with new ideas to combat hunger.

Other recommendations in the report that didn’t deal with SNAP included expanding Medicare to cover Meals on Wheels-type deliveries and also setting aside tax incentives for business to set up or partner with hunger programs.

Legislators can get started on one recommendation almost immediately, voting to expand access to the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer program, which provides food to children who normally receive free lunch at school. That could reduce hunger among families with children by 30 percent, according to Chilton.

The main message of the commission’s report was that hunger in the United States is “solvable.”

“Hunger is solvable because we have a strong foundation of nutrition assistance programs that make profound differences in the lives of many Americans — especially families with young children,” Chilton said. “As the richest nation in the world, with a vast amount of resources and expertise, the existence of hunger in America demands that we make improvements to those existing programs and also focus on improving the chances for those with low incomes and people who are disabled, disenfranchised or isolated.”

Members of the media who are interested in speaking to Chilton can contact Frank Otto at 215.571.4244 or fmo26@drexel.edu.