43 Million Americans Don’t Have Enough to Eat

March 12, 2021 by Tom Ramstack

WASHINGTON — The COVID-19 pandemic is winding down but lawmakers in Congress said Wednesday their work to halt the hunger that resulted from it continues.

This week, an estimated 9.6 million jobs remain lost compared with the start of the pandemic early last year, according to U.S. Department of Labor figures.

At the same time, about 43 million Americans face challenges to feed themselves and their families.

“This is the beginning of our approach to deal with hunger in our nation,” said Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., during a hearing of the House Agriculture Committee. Scott is chairman of the committee.

He cited a Congressional Budget Office report showing the economic downturn caused by the pandemic will last until at least 2023.

“Just like a hurricane, a tornado, a flood or an earthquake, we are dealing with a natural disaster that demands we come together for a real solution to hunger,” Scott said.

(Chart courtesy USAFacts.org)

He spoke on the same day President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. 

In addition to authorizing a third round of stimulus checks to low- and middle-income Americans, expanding child tax benefits and increasing unemployment benefits, the bill includes aid for agricultural and emergency food assistance programs.

The House Agriculture Committee is leading the effort in Congress to figure out how to prevent malnutrition, or even starvation, as the economy struggles to regain its footing.

A leading proposal would extend a 15% increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. More commonly known as food stamps, the federal program provides food purchasing assistance for low-income persons.

As part of the emergency relief the federal government announced last year, SNAP benefits were boosted by 15%.

A second proposal would continue the $4.5 billion Farmers to Families Food Box program the Trump administration launched last May to help struggling farmers and to feed unemployed persons. It distributes boxes of fresh food to organizations that help low-income persons.

Congress gave the U.S. Department of Agriculture a $1.5 billion supplement in January to continue the program.

On Thursday, lawmakers heard pleas from agricultural and hunger relief organizations to keep it going indefinitely.

(Chart courtesy USAFacts.org)

“We found lines at our food banks more than a mile long in some cases,” said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

He said the Farmers to Families Food Box program prevented catastrophe for the farmers who filled the boxes as much as the poor people who received them.

“We need to have a steady flow of funds going into programs like that,” Duvall said.

Kyle Waide, chief executive officer of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, said the pandemic exposed the vulnerabilities of populations hit the hardest by the recession it caused. His facility is part of the Feeding America national network of food banks.

A Feeding America analysis showed that “nationally, the food insecure population could be as high as 50 million, including 17 million children,” Waide said in his testimony.

He advocated for more SNAP benefits.

No one during the congressional hearing doubted that hunger has become a serious problem for the United States in the past year.

However, at least one of the lawmakers expressed concern that taxpayer dollars were being stretched thin for another federal program to subsidize disadvantaged persons, similar to Social Security or veterans’ compensation for the disabled. The programs are known as entitlements.

“We are in the midst of our nation’s second largest expansion of entitlements,” said Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa.

In response to an inquiry from The Well News, Alison Cohen, senior director of programs at the advocacy organization WhyHunger, said the government needs to be more aggressive to support anti-hunger efforts.

She said private organizations like WhyHunger lacked resources to meet all the challenges of the pandemic.

“What we are witnessing now is a private charitable feeding system pushed to its limits, a system that has for too long filled what should be the protective role of government,” she said.

She also suggested agricultural reform policies that would direct more farm production toward feeding people.

“We grow more non-food crops than food crops,” Cohen said. “In the U.S., just 27% of crop calories are consumed directly by humans — wheat, say, or fruits and vegetables grown in California. By contrast, more than 67% of crops — particularly all the soy grown in the Midwest — goes to animal feed. And a portion of the rest goes to ethanol and other biofuels.” 

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