The United States is one of the wealthiest nations in the world. Our agricultural products compete worldwide and bring billions of dollars into our domestic economy. Unfortunately, hunger is still a problem in the U.S. and is only getting worse. The federal government to date has clearly failed to address this issue properly. New York City alone has over one million residents who depend on emergency food programs (EFPs). Many of these are children under the age of 18. Countless others are "food insecure"—that is they do not know when their next meal may be.
Although there is a clear need for greater funding for food assistance programs, there have been many cuts to these types of programs. As a result, food kitchens are operating on fewer days, reducing staff and depending on volunteers while others are forced to permanently close their doors. With stagnant wages and the rising cost of food, housing, healthcare and other vital necessities, millions of households across America depend on the federal government to help them meet their basic nutritional needs.
The Farm Bill, which is passed every five years by Congress, contains funding to help address some of the nutritional needs of struggling families, senior citizens and people with disabilities. New investments in the nutrition section of the bill are needed to strengthen vital programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP). Furthermore, provisions discouraging the use of these benefit programs must be removed. For example, the current finger imaging requirement for the SNAP program deters eligible applicants. A 2008 Urban Institute study found that four percent of Food Stamp applicants do not apply because of this requirement. The study also found that this requirement only deterred .002 percent of New York City Food Stamp participants from defrauding the program. Congressman Serrano has always opposed these unnecessary restrictions and will continue to do so.
In 2007, Congressman Serrano introduced H.R. 206, the Anti-Hunger Empowerment Act. This legislation would remove SNAP’s finger imaging requirement. It also would establish a 'Beyond the Soup Kitchen Pilot Program' that would provide grants to anti-hunger and community-based nonprofit feeding organizations that help low-income Americans. This legislation is also a step in the right direction to address issues such as obesity. Above all, it would help more eligible Americans participate in food assistance programs.
Lastly, in order to properly address the growing hunger problem in our nation, comprehensive solutions are needed that address hunger within the broader context of poverty. Many people that depend on EFPs live in low-income neighborhoods where there is a lack of access to healthy organic foods. This in turn is closely associated with the high rates of obesity, diabetes and other diseases that are common in urban areas. Congressman Serrano has supported efforts to increase funding to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Snack Program and the Department of Defense's Vegetable Program, programs that provide healthy foods to schools.
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