Volunteers fill bags at a food bank in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)
In his State of the Union address, President Obama offered the kind of concrete proposals that anti-poverty advocates have long been waiting for: raising the minimum wage, expanding high-quality early childhood education and creating new “ladders of opportunity” in twenty of the poorest communities in the country.
All of these policies would help reverse the spread of hunger, which now affects more than 50 million Americans, including more than one in five children—an increase of 37 percent in childhood hunger since 1999. However, these promising proposals aren’t nearly enough, especially since the country is poised to move in the wrong direction in the fight against hunger.
If the sequester cuts takes effect, 600,000 low-income pregnant women and children up to age 5 will be cut from the Women, Infants & Children (WIC) program, which currently provides them with a monthly package of nutritious food. SNAP (food stamp) benefits are also scheduled to be cut in order to pay for—if you can believe it—a 2010 deal that improved the nutritional quality of school lunches. After November 1, SNAP benefits will average approximately $1.30 per person per meal. Finally, during the last Congress, both the House Agricultural Committee and the full Senate voted to cut the SNAP program—by $16 billion and $4.5 billion, respectively—so more cuts might be on the horizon.
That’s why a new report from Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger (NYCCAH) and a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, is so timely. How President Obama Can Reverse America’s Worsening Hunger Metrics is a practical guide to executive actions Obama can take now “to significantly reduce child hunger, as well as US hunger in general,” according to Berg. In 2008, then-candidate Obama pledged to end childhood hunger by 2015. This report offers ways he can move in that direction without relying on Congress.
Berg is a man who knows this subject. He has served as executive director of NYCCAH since 2001, helping it grow into one of the leading direct service and advocacy organizations on hunger and poverty in the nation, and was a political appointee in the US Department of Agriculture during the Clinton administration. Berg helped start AmeriCorps, and ran a program that mobilized 1,200 people to do anti-hunger work, rural economic development, and environmental work. He created the first-ever federal initiative to help faith-based and other nonprofit groups fight hunger and help low-income Americans move out of poverty. He also coordinated the USDA’s effort to help community groups increase the amount of food they recovered, gleaned, and distributed to hungry Americans.