Child Watch® Column:
"Thank God for Peanut Butter and Jelly—PB and J—Day"

Release Date: April 17, 2015

Marian Wright Edelman

Kaylyn Sigman is a high school senior with big plans. A star soccer player from a poor rural Appalachian Ohio community who loves calculus and creative writing, she’s college bound this fall and dreams of becoming a middle school special education teacher. Kaylyn’s overcome a lot to arrive where she is today. Her parents’ relationship was rocky throughout her childhood and they finally divorced when she was 10, leaving Kaylyn’s mother alone to raise her, her younger sister, and two younger brothers who were adopted. Her mother, who suffers from seizures, worked as a labor and delivery nurse but is now on disability. Both brothers have special mental health needs and Kaylyn, a bright student who skipped second grade and was reading at the ninth grade level in third grade, has ADHD, all leading to an ongoing pile of medical appointments and bills. After her father left, Kaylyn’s family struggled in poverty, moving seven times in four years trying to find an affordable place to stay. Kaylyn’s mother says when they lost their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) benefits last year, their family never would have survived the toughest times without PB and J Day, held once a week during the summer months at the children’s school through the local County Children’s Services Agency. They’d come home with enough bread, peanut butter and jelly so each family member could have one sandwich for three meals a day until the next pickup.

Kaylyn Sigma

Kaylyn is one of five inspiring high school seniors the Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio is honoring this month with a Beat the Odds® award and college scholarship. But millions of other children continue to go hungry every day in our wealthy nation. Some aren’t even lucky enough to be able to count on peanut butter sandwiches to get them through. What do those hungry families do?

SNAP helps feed 21 million children—more than one in 4 children in our nation. SNAP prevents children and families from going hungry, improves overall health, and reduces poverty among families that benefit from it. The extra resources it provides lifted 2.1 million children out of poverty in 2013. It’s the second most effective program for rescuing families from poverty and the most effective program for rescuing families from deep poverty. SNAP doesn’t just keep a child from going to school or bed hungry, but has long-lasting effects. Research shows children with access to food stamps are less likely to experience stunted growth, heart disease, and obesity by age 19, and are nearly 20 percent more likely to complete high school. And SNAP’s positive effects extend beyond individual children and families to entire communities. During a recession, the impact of SNAP’s economic growth is estimated to be from $1.73 to $1.79 for every dollar of benefits provided. In short, SNAP works. It’s critical that SNAP be improved and expanded, not cut as proposed under the House and Senate Republican proposed budgets.

Although we know cuts to SNAP would mean millions of children might lose benefits and be more likely to go hungry and suffer the long-term negative impacts of hunger, and despite the fact that every major bipartisan budget commission has said that SNAP should not be cut, that’s just what current Republican budget blueprints in the House and Senate are proposing. Worse, the House budget plan would block grant SNAP and cut its funding by $125 billion—more than a third—from 2021-2025. The Senate budget doesn’t provide enough detail to tell exactly how SNAP would fare, but it cuts non-health entitlement programs serving low- and moderate-income people—which includes SNAP—24 percent.

SNAP benefits now average less than $1.40 a person a meal, and as critical as they are, they’re not enough for many low-income families like Kaylyn’s. In 2013, 54 percent of families receiving SNAP were still food insecure, and overall 1 in 9 children in our nation didn’t have enough to eat. During the recession Congress recognized that SNAP benefits were too low for many and increased the value of the maximum benefit 13.6 percent. The impact was powerful: 831,000 children were kept out of poverty in 2010 as a result of the change. But Congress ended that increase in November 2013. Further slashing SNAP benefits now will cause even more children to go hungry, push families deeper into poverty, and have negative repercussions for the entire nation.

There are many other choices. The Children’s Defense Fund’s recent Ending Child Poverty Now report shows increasing SNAP benefits 30 percent would decrease hunger for 12.6 million families with children and the added resources would lift 1.8 million children out of poverty, reducing child poverty 16 percent. Families like Kaylyn’s need more help, not less—and it’s not too late for our leaders on all sides of the political aisle to do the right thing. In a nation where millions of working families still can’t earn enough to pay rent, pay the bills, and put food on the table at the same time—and where in fiscal year 2013 there were 4.9 million households with no income but SNAP including 1.3 million households with children—relying on the charity of PB and J Day is not a substitute for justice. Tell these leaders seeking to make already hungry children hungrier that they should instead cut the $38 billion from the defense budget the Pentagon did not ask for and restore the $269 billion in lost revenue from the repeal of the estate tax that only helps the top 2/10th of one percent of wealthiest Americans. It boggles my mind to try to understand such skewed moral values and lack of understanding that the real security of our nation is in the minds and bodies and education of our children.

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 Rosee at: April 20, 2015
The Republicans are proving they are not fit to govern. What good are you if you cannot promote policies to benefit all of us, not just the ultra rich.

Submitted by Reets at: April 18, 2015
Please maintain your leadership on this moral right.

Submitted by Reets at: April 18, 2015
I simply cannot comprehend a budget that violates the social contract. Please maintain your invaluable leadership on this human right.

Submitted by janejaehning at: April 18, 2015

Submitted by Deb at: April 18, 2015
Both kids and cars need fuel to run

Submitted by at: April 18, 2015
Expecting a child to succeed without food is like expecting your car to run without gas

Submitted by YA Smith at: April 18, 2015
It's shocking to know that lower income people are able to make a meal off $1.40 per meal. This type of situation is inhumane and unbelievable in today's economy. Decreasing SNAP benefits for families who are already barely able to make ends meet is modernization genocide.

Submitted by Jodyann at: April 17, 2015
Sadly, though we are the richest nation in the world, we do not share that wealth so all can have a decent life, nor have ewnough food to keep them healthy and a contributing member of our society. This is not poor families fault, it is the responsibility of this countries leadership and all opf its citizens who are able to vote. SHAME ON US. We have an obligation to design a country that cares for all of its citizens, and makes certain that hunger is nonexistant, and every one has enough of all necessatives to make life work. It is our responsability.

Submitted by Dick at: April 17, 2015
I totally agree with the need to retain the SNAP program and would support increasing the benefits on some kind of rational basis. America cannot desert the support of our challenged families.

Submitted by Diane at: April 17, 2015
This column is puts flesh and bones and heart on statistics that might otherwise be coldly ignored. It moves one to act in a well informed manner with compassion as energy.

Submitted by Black Rooster at: April 17, 2015
It boggles, no it does not, your mind as well as mine is perfectly set to see the evil of this government...what should admitted is the shear lack of resolve to organized and fight the good fight for such a good cause. Maybe the fall of a nation is taken place and starting with our heart to live.

Submitted by CJ at: April 17, 2015
Ms. Edelman, I agree that reducing SNAP is a travesty for many working poor and our children. It is morally reprehensible that corporate lobbyists have no concern about our least able citizens and get our Congress to move on their selfish whims. We need to educate citizens on our power to influence positive change. Thank you for doing your part.