Nourish the Nation by Combatting Child Hunger
By Tamara Sandberg, Advisor, U.S. Food Security & Nutrition
For more than a decade, childhood hunger in America was trending in a positive direction: down. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the number of households with children that reported struggling with food security was steadily decreasing since the Great Recession, dropping to a two-decade low of 13.6 percent in 2019. Alarmingly, child hunger has skyrocketed across the United States amid the COVID-19 pandemic. New research from Northwestern University underscores a heartbreaking reality. Since March, food insecurity rates have tripled for families with children across the nation and are disproportionately impacting Black and Hispanic families.
One child struggling with hunger is one too many. Before the pandemic closed schools, Save the Children supported kids through early education programs across rural America. Visits to these programs make clear that child hunger is pervasive in rural America. Pre-pandemic, nearly 90 percent of the nation’s counties with the highest rates of child food insecurity were rural. In California’s Central Valley, the Mississippi Delta, or in my backyard in Appalachia, kids often sprint off the school bus in the morning, making a beeline to the cafeteria for the free breakfast served at school. Getting nutritious meals to children outside school buildings proved one of the biggest challenges to overcome during widespread school closures this spring.
Organizations including Save the Children, food banks, and community and faith-based groups rose to the occasion and worked tirelessly to meet the urgent need of hungry kids. In fact, Save the Children helped prepare and deliver nearly 9 million meals across rural America since schools were shuttered to ensure kids weren’t missing out. That number continues to grow as remote and hybrid learning models carry on during the pandemic.
But we can’t rely on nonprofits and generous individuals alone to fill the food gap. Specific, focused investment at the federal and state level is essential to ensure children do not continue to go hungry. The federal government must approve a 15 percent boost in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and increase the minimum monthly benefit to $30 as part of the solution. We need Congress to take action and put resources directly and immediately into American’s wallets. Every SNAP dollar spent generates about $1.54 in economic activity, so this investment helps local communities and economies, too.
SNAP is critical for helping children grow and helps break the cycle of poverty. Meeting children’s basic nutritional needs helps ensure they are healthier and better able to succeed in school. When children grow up smarter, stronger and healthier, our nation is smarter, stronger and healthier, too. Elected officials, please join us in strengthening our children’s futures. We need your leadership and commitment to ensure every child has a strong, healthy life.
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