Unsatisfied with the right-wing media’s usual poor-shaming, Bill O’Reilly has a new target: hungry kids. Although 15.3 million children live in households that struggle to put food on the table, Bill O’Reilly used a recent show to peddle his theory that child hunger is made up.
If you look at the studies of poverty, most poor people in this country have computers, have big screen TVs, have cars, have air conditioning. This myth that there are kids who don’t have anything to eat is a total lie.[…] You are telling me that you believe in the United States of America, with all the entitlement programs and food stamps and everything else, there are urchins running around that don’t have any food because of the system?
As Bill O’Reilly apparently does not know a single family straining to make ends meet, we did his homework for him and asked four mothers who have experienced hunger to tell us what they think about his comments:
Asia Thompson, Pennsylvania: O’Reilly said show me hunger and I say, “Here I am.” My children have lived through a lot of adverse situations; we have been homeless and have relied on shelters. Without food stamps, my children would starve. When is it okay for children to starve in this country? When is it okay to actively ignore starving children in your country?
Mary Janet Bryant, Kentucky: He hasn’t experienced poverty, but Bill O’Reilly should know that poverty can happen to anyone. When my twin sons were 9 months old, my husband lost his job and we had to go on WIC to feed our children. This program provided support and the food was one less thing we had to worry about. And as a Head Start teacher, I see firsthand how kids can’t focus in school because they’re so hungry.
Vivian Thorpe, California: I used all of these programs for my children, and I am a success story like thousands of other parents. My oldest daughter is in her fourth year of college studying stem-cell biology on her way to a PhD. I beg to differ with Bill O’Reilly’s opinion, as he doesn’t have firsthand experience with hunger and poverty.
Sherry Brennan, California: I think it’s easy to miss the signs of child poverty and hunger in our society because people often look better than they feel. I was less hungry as a kid because my family benefited from WIC, SNAP, and school lunch. I also graduated from high school, college, and graduate school. I have worked hard for 25 years in the TV business and I am the social safety net for my family now. To my way of thinking, Bill O’Reilly is seeing the emperor in a fine new suit of gold-threaded clothes, but that emperor is naked.
O’Reilly is right about one thing. Without nutrition assistance, hunger would be a lot worse. In fact, 50 years ago, images of malnourished Americans with sunken eyes and bloated bellies helped spur the creation of programs that kept nearly 5 million people out of poverty last year.
But his comments represent an attempt to muddy the waters and reduce public support for action on child hunger. We can’t turn our backs on hungry kids. Instead, we need to protect existing nutrition programs that are threatened by cuts and double down on smart public policies that create jobs, boost wages, and increase access to nutrition assistance benefits for families struggling in today’s economy.
Only then will we actually end child hunger.