At the end of September, Congress adjourned in advance of the midterm elections without voting on one of the most important, popular, and bipartisan bills of the year: the Child Nutrition Reauthorization (S. 3307, The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act). Members of Congress quickly left Washington and headed home to campaign, leaving this critical legislation, which would provide nutritious meals for millions of America's hungry children, incomplete on the Clerk's desk.
Today, one in four of America's children are either hungry or food insecure. These children do not receive the minimum amount of food to stay healthy, live a decent life, and have a chance to excel. Of the 19.4 million children receiving lunch assistance each school day, less than half receive breakfast assistance and just 11 percent access summer-feeding programs. Compounding this problem, much of the food that children eat lacks nutritional quality. Nearly 17 percent of children under the age of 18 are considered obese. In the world's most prosperous and industrious nation, it is unconscionable that so many children begin their school day and are tucked into bed at night without the basic sustenance needed to grow into healthy adults and pursue their dreams. We have a moral imperative to protect the most vulnerable among us, especially hungry children. As of now Congress has only temporarily extended funding for child nutrition programs at a level below what most experts feel is necessary. This level has made it impossible to help correct the problems currently facing hungry low-income children. During the lame-duck session, which begins Nov. 15, Congress has the opportunity to ensure the continuity of these critical programs that ameliorate the problem of childhood hunger, expand their reach to enable greater numbers of qualifying families to receive food assistance, and enhance services so that more of the growing hunger and nutrition needs are met.
The bipartisan Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, supported by a broad coalition of organizations, including the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, must be the number one item on Congress' agenda when it returns. Caring for those among us who have the least, especially our children whose healthy development will ensure they have a better future, should be above political or scheduling concerns.
The Senate-passed version of the bill (S. 3307) has the added funding needed and it must be passed by the House. The programs included in the bill clearly will make a difference in the lives of poor children in America. These programs will make positive changes in schools and nutrition programs across the country. There is not one congressional district where children are not benefiting from these programs. Passing S. 3307 would help to reduce hunger and increase children's access to healthy meals by expanding the supper program from 14 to all 50 states. The bill also authorizes grants to retain summer food program sponsors, improves and expands breakfast programs, and encourages states to develop comprehensive strategies to end child hunger. In addition, it would make progress against childhood obesity and improve the nutritional quality of meals by strengthening nutrition standards for all food sold in schools, providing schools with increased resources and training to improve meal quality, and supporting farm-to-school programs and school gardens.
The JCPA and our partners in the anti-hunger and faith communities are committed to working with Congress and the administration to find additional ways to improve access to child nutrition programs and restore the cuts to SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) that are used to partially pay for this bill.
America's most vulnerable, our poor and our children, are waiting for Congress to step forward and lead. It is simply inexcusable for us to continue to allow so many children to go hungry in this country of such great abundance. In September, as Congress was moving towards recess, many Jews were observing the holiest day of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur. During the day we read the passages from Isaiah in which the prophet asks the Jews of his time who are coming to the Temple for Yom Kippur, a fast day, if they know why they are fasting. Isaiah says unambiguously that we are fasting to 'let the oppressed go free; to break off every yoke. It is to share our bread with the hungry and take the wretched poor into our homes.' In the spirit of Isaiah's words, let us break off the yoke of childhood hunger in this country. Childhood hunger in America is not acceptable. Let us lend our voices to those who need us most and pass the child nutrition bill.
This piece was prepared with Elyssa Koidin, Senior Policy Associate