Editorial: Despite nation’s wealth, hunger shadows millions of Americans

Last modified: Monday, January 25, 2016

Hunger has no place in the United States. After all, this is a nation of abundance. The country produces tons and tons of food within our borders and imports billions of dollars worth of food.

The shelves of grocery stores big and small are stocked full of products to address all kinds of tastes and diets.

And yet, though there’s no shortage of food, hunger is very much an issue in the country. In 2014, 14 percent of households (17.5 million households, approximately one in seven), were food insecure.

That’s a number that is slightly better than 2013, but it should be an unacceptable figure for all Americans, particularly those inside our nation’s capital.

U.S. Rep. James McGovern is among those trying to address this issue. As he told the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce breakfast last week, there are too many Americans, including those on the other side of the aisle, who don’t see the issue.

Sitting on the Nutrition Subcommittee, the Democrat from Worcester who represents a large swath of western Massachusetts, expressed his dismay over a Republican proposal to shift the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) to a block grant system. Such a move, McGovern says, would hurt vulnerable populations, including children, the elderly and veterans.

“We have 47 million people in this country, the richest nation in the world, who are hungry,” said McGovern. “We’re told that between 60,000 and 100,000 veterans will lose their SNAP benefit in the coming months because they will have exhausted their three-month limit. How do we allow that to happen? Hundreds of thousands of others will fall into that category. ... Nutritious food ought to be a right in this country.”

McGovern wants people to see that in many ways “hunger is a political condition” and one that can be solved.

“One of the myths out there is that all people need to do is get a job,” McGovern said. “The majority of people on SNAP are children, are senior citizens and are members of the disabled community. Of those who are able-bodied, the majority of them work. You can be working full-time in this country and still be eligible for SNAP. If you start to earn a little bit more, the way the system is set up, you can start losing benefits.”

The congressman said that what’s needed is better coordination and cooperation among federal departments and agencies. That suggestion echoes some of what came out of the National Commission on Hunger’s report released this month.

As Mariana Chilton, a professor at Drexel University and commission co-chair, said recently, “Hunger is solvable because we have a strong foundation of nutrition assistance programs that make profound differences in the lives of many Americans — especially families with young children.”

We agree with her view that in the richest nation in the world, with its vast resources and expertise, Americans should demand improvements to existing programs “and also focus on improving the chances for those with low incomes and people who are disabled, disenfranchised or isolated.” Let’s make this happen.


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