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Charity Can’t Do It Alone—by Vicki Escarra
The U.S. House is proposing devastating cuts of $169 billion to SNAP, the largest federal nutrition program. Some representatives argue that the U.S. government has no responsibility to help hungry citizens—it’s the responsibility of churches. If anyone should know if this is a reasonable argument, it’s Vicki Escarra, the president and CEO of Feeding America, the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief charity.
Vicki Escarra maintains that the charitable food assistance network cannot meet the needs of hungry families in the U.S. without the partnership of the federal government. Read this excerpt from the 2012 Hunger Report to find out why:
If you ask someone to imagine what hunger looks like, many people conjure up the images they have seen on TV—starving and malnourished children with distended bellies living in foreign lands. While hunger in the United States may not look the same as those images displayed on TV, hunger is an all too prevalent reality facing many of our neighbors right here at home. As Feeding America’s recently published Map the Meal Gap study shows, hunger can be found in every county, congressional district, and state in the country.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the number of people at risk of hunger increased by nearly 12.6 million during the recent recession—from 36.2 million people in 2007 to 48.8 million people in 2010. This spike mirrored the dramatic rise in unemployment: the 111 percent increase in the number of unemployed people from November 2007 to November 2010 was mirrored by a 61 percent increase in participation in SNAP (formerly food stamps), the largest federal nutrition program, over that period. Likewise, food banks saw a 46 percent increase in clients seeking emergency food assistance between 2006 and 2010.
As a result of widespread unemployment, many people who previously considered themselves to be comfortably middle-class found themselves in need of assistance to provide enough food for their families. For many of those in need of food assistance, charity is often the first place they turn to for help. As the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief charity, Feeding America annually serves more than 37 million people through a national network of more than 200 food banks and the local agencies they support—more than 61,000 of them, including food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and others. Of these, 55 percent are faith-based. Together we now serve one in eight Americans.
Unfortunately, we are increasingly being called upon to provide more than short-term food assistance. Struggling families often turn to local charities as both the first line of assistance when they fall on hard times and the last line of defense when other supports are exhausted. As Map the Meal Gap shows, only about 55 percent of the food-insecure population have income levels eligible for SNAP. Newly unemployed people are often income eligible but exceed the limit on household assets to qualify for federal nutrition programs. Many working families have some employment, but lack the hours and wages necessary to be economically stable. These workers either do not qualify for federal nutrition programs, or do not qualify for enough assistance to fully meet their family’s nutritional needs. In both cases, they have nowhere to turn but to the charitable food network to make sure their family has enough to eat.
While we rely heavily on generous charitable contributions, Feeding America would be unable to maintain its current levels of service without the support of federal nutrition assistance programs …
Vicki Escarra is the president and CEO of Feeding America, the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief charity, serving 37 million people each year. The Map the Meal Gap study can be found at www.feedingamerica.org/mapthegap.
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