Seemingly drawing from the playbook of a national commission on hunger that was co-chaired by a Drexel professor, President Barack Obama announced a plan to budget $12 billion for reducing hunger in children.
The plan, announced late last month, would spread the money over 10 years to expand into the summer a federal program designed to feed breakfast and lunch to schoolchildren.
The week Obama’s budget plan was announced, Mariana Chilton, PhD, associate professor in the Dornsife School of Public Health and director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities, attended an event at the White House to discuss Obama’s announcement and other measures being taken that fall in line with the report she helped draft as co-chair of the National Commission on Hunger.
Obama’s commitment answers a challenge Chilton and her colleagues put forward in the report. They called for national political leadership to step up and prevent the hunger that affects nearly one in seven American households.
“This is profoundly important and the first time there’s something on hunger that is potentially transformative coming out of the White House,” Chilton said of Obama’s proposal. “Mrs. [Michelle] Obama has been great about child obesity and they did make some improvements to child nutrition, but this is the first time the White House has made a move of this scale.”
Almost 22 million children receive free or reduced school meals as a part of the federal school meals programs, but just a fraction, according to the Obama administration, receive such meals when they’re at home for the summer.
“We have pretty good coverage for school lunch and breakfast, but not so much for the summer,” Chilton explained.
The plan is slated for the 2017 fiscal year. His budget would put the $12 billion toward the Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children (Summer EBT) program. Summer EBT would assist families with children who receive free or reduced meals during the school year, but have no adequate access to food when school’s out. Those families would be provided with a debit card that could be used at the grocery store to buy only food.
Obama’s plan follows directly a recommendation made by the National Commission on Hunger’s final report.
“This would be $45 more dollars per month, per kid,” Chilton said. “The reason it’s so important is there have been demonstration studies over the past five years where the results show that if families get a boost in income for food, there’s a 30 percent reduction in hunger.”
Thirty percent would be an unprecedented drop, affecting millions of families.
“It’s the biggest reduction that we would have ever seen,” Chilton said.
The timing of Obama’s announcement and the event at the White House this week was important because the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act, which is responsible for the federal school meals program and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) supplemental nutrition program, is up for debate in Congress.
Since Obama’s plan is just a proposal, it would need the support of a majority of legislators to become a reality. Chilton said it would take some “political forecasting” to see whether the plan would get through unscathed, but she said there seems to be significant bipartisan support to do something to fight hunger.
And part of that support seems to be generated by the National Commission on Hunger report.
“I heard while I was there at the White House Wednesday that our report is getting a lot of traction on the Hill and representatives and advocates are using it,” Chilton said. “Kevin Concannon, [undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services at the Department of Agriculture] told me they’re considering several of our recommendations.”
Media interested in speaking to Chilton should contact Frank Otto at 215.571.4244 or firstname.lastname@example.org.