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Child Watch® Column: "Preventable Hunger in Our Land of Plenty"

Release Date: November 27, 2013

Marian Wright Edelman

While many American families gather around the Thanksgiving table this week, some of us combining this year’s traditional dinners with Hanukkah feasts, a too quiet group will be left out of the national celebration. The nearly 49 million Americans—including nearly 16 million children—living in food insecure households will be struggling to afford the food they need. These families won’t be choosing between apple or pumpkin pie this holiday season but will face choices about paying for groceries or rent, heat, electricity, medicine or clothing for their children as they do each month—choices no family should have to make in our nation with the largest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the world. Congress will be choosing how many of these desperate families and children in need to cut from life-giving and life-sustaining federal nutrition programs. In the middle of this season of gratitude for plenty, Congress has put the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, often called food stamps) on the chopping block while leaving largely intact subsidies for rich farmers and even some non-farmers.

With the decision deadline just weeks away Congress is working to bridge the gap between two dramatically different Farm Bill proposals which both include unjust funding cuts for SNAP. The Senate Bill cuts $4 billion from SNAP over 10 years while the House bill slashes more than $40 billion—denying food to as many as six million people, including children, seniors, and veterans. The House proposal would also drop 210,000 children from school meals and cost our economy 55,000 jobs in the first year alone.

Any agreed upon Farm Bill cuts to the already meager SNAP food benefits will come on top of the $11 billion cut over the next three years that already began on November 1st and affected every single SNAP recipient. This recent cut was equivalent to a week’s worth of meals for a nine-year-old. SNAP benefits now average a mere $1.40 per person per meal. Imagine preparing your family Thanksgiving meal on that budget.

SNAP lifted 2.2 million children out of poverty in 2012 and provided benefits to over 46 million Americans on average every month, including more than 22 million, or more than one in four, children. SNAP was a life saver for millions of families in need during the recent recession and still sluggish recovery. Nearly three-quarters of SNAP households are families with children. Any additional cuts will take desperately needed food away from many vulnerable children and adults.

At a time when child poverty remains at a record high, and when three-quarters of our nation’s teachers report students who routinely show up to school hungry and half report hunger to be a serious problem in their classrooms, what kind of political leaders could for one minute consider cutting children’s food assistance while protecting subsidies for rich farmers?

Hunger and malnutrition have devastating consequences for children and have been linked to low birth weight and birth defects, obesity, mental and physical health problems, and poorer educational outcomes. SNAP cushions these threats and yields a strong return on investment. Children who benefit from SNAP are less likely to be in poor health, experience fewer hospitalizations, and are less likely to have developmental and growth delays than those with similar incomes denied the program. A recent study found that needy children who received food assistance before age five were in better health as adults. Specifically, the girls studied were more likely to complete more schooling, earn more money, and not rely on safety net programs as adults.

Adults who care and have common and economic sense would strengthen and not cut this critical lifeline for children. During this Thanksgiving week, those of us blessed with enough or too much food can show our gratitude for living in a wealthy country where we can take action and urge our political leaders to put hungry children before rich farmers. And as millions of us sit down to a Thanksgiving dinner let us offer a simple Thanksgiving grace:

      God, we thank You for this food

      for the hands that planted it

      for the hands that tended it

      for the hands that harvested it

      for the hands that prepared it

      for the hands that provided it

      and for the hands that served it.

      And we pray for those without enough food

            in Your world and in our land of plenty.

Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to

Mrs. Edelman's Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.

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Here's what others have said:

Submitted by EESTOY2011 at: December 4, 2013
I do know that the need is indeed crucial for SNAP, but when I watch people abuse the system like adding people to their family to get more benefits, the elderly receive $10.00 when a house of 5 receives $800.00, and others sell their benefits to buy other items, I have a huge problem with that. I wish the government would create a better system to monitor who receives because they are being cheated. The system needs to be connected to the school, finding jobs (as it already is), credit reports, etc. why do I say this, because I have students that come to school hungry because parents sell the SNAP, then this causes them to act out. When they act out they don't learn, then grades fall, then I have to work extra hard to help that child maintain. If the SNAP was tied to the school then the government could require school visits by the parents in order to keep them. They should be held more accountable for what the government gives them.

Submitted by DeeV at: November 28, 2013
Thank you.for fighting the good fight. May The Lord bless you and keep you and for our children who are subjected to such a state that the world is in today. I have signed a petition to stop this bill from passing. I pray for all of us overcome this darkness that has befallen us.

Submitted by letpeacereign at: November 27, 2013
Truly a sad commentary on our nation's (government leaders) priorities.Good blessing for the big meal (for some of us) tomorrow.

Submitted by DEW at: November 27, 2013
Wonderfully worded remarks and I too will be sharing the beautiful prayer that was included as I gather with my family for Thanksgiving Dinner. With all the "busyness" that occupies our lives, it is imperative that we force ourselves to remember, pray for, and act to help others less fortunate than ourselves.

Submitted by Anonymous at: November 27, 2013
That a country as rich as America can spend a trillion dollars a year on Imperial War Machines and let the least among us go hungry speaks volumes about the "Soul of America" and how impoverished of spirit it has become.

Submitted by Anonymous at: November 27, 2013
Perhaps we should educate people to be more self sufficient, productive, and less reliant on others for basic needs. Perhaps the best solution to this problem is to have an economy that provides good jobs for all who are willing to work. In the meantime,the private sector must step up even more so to help feed the poor, and, yes, the government should see to it that nobody goes hungry, but the government must insure that food stamps are not traded on Craig's list or used to by cigarettes, and other crap.

Submitted by PP at: November 27, 2013
I'm am appalled at the number of food pantries that our community relies on. While I am grateful that local families have access to the services provided by food pantries but am angered that our rich nation does not provide jobs that pay living wages to families to enable them to care for themselves. Food pantries were intended to be temporary forms of assistance. That is no longer the case.

Submitted by Scott at: November 27, 2013
Wonderful prayer I will be saying at my table.