F ood i s one of the basic necessities of life — a statement so obvious you’re probably wondering why we would waste our time opening our column with it. The sad truth is that one in five American children struggles with the problem of hunger. The United States is the wealthiest country on Earth, yet millions of American kids wake up each day not knowing whether they will have enough to eat. This is unacceptable.
September is National Hunger Action Month, and it’s time to take action. It’s time to take a stand against the plague of hunger in this country. While many Penn students do a great deal to help disadvantaged children, we must all realize that charity and service work are complements to — not substitutes for — government services. What we do in our communities is incredibly important, but what happens in Congress and in our state capitals matters, too. When we go to the polls in November, we should consider how our representatives believe we should treat the underprivileged members of our communities.
A primary and indispensable role of government is to help those who cannot help themselves — a category that surely includes hungry children. It is one of the government’s sacred duties to do what it can to ensure that no child goes hungry.
Sadly, however, Republicans in Congress have made it clear that they do not agree. At a time when many Americans are just getting back on their feet following the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, Congressional Republicans have been trying to make life more difficult for the most vulnerable among us.
In 2013, the Republicans in Congress voted to reduce funding for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, by an astounding $40 billion over the next decade.
Defending his support for these cuts, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) quoted a passage from the Bible: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” This begs the question, who are the beneficiaries of this program? The congressman himself might be surprised to learn that 47 percent of those who receive SNAP benefits are children, and an additional 26 percent are adults living with children. Even more astonishing, perhaps, is that 82 percent of all SNAP households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult include someone who worked in the year immediately before or after receiving SNAP. The idea that this program benefits lazy, mooching adults who refuse to get a job is just wrong.
Fortunately, Republicans were not able to cut SNAP funding by $40 billion. Still, Republicans were somewhat successful in their quest to cut aid to the needy. Earlier this year, President Obama signed into law a compromise agreement that cut SNAP by almost $9 billion.
As a result of those cuts, 175,000 Pennsylvania families will lose $65 in benefits each month. Many of these families undoubtedly live close to Penn, and perhaps some of the affected children are those whom Penn students tutor in local schools. For families that have already been struggling to make ends meet, these cuts will be devastating.
SNAP is a vital program that ought to be strengthened, not dismantled. It is well-documented that children perform worse in school and have poorer health when they experience food insecurity. We cannot expect our students to excel academically while they are suffering from extreme hunger. Children who receive SNAP benefits have been shown to be healthier and less likely to experience developmental delays than those children who don’t but are eligible. And in 2012 alone, SNAP lifted 2.2 million children out of poverty. SNAP works.
SNAP aids children and parents who are struggling to put food on the table for their families. These are the people with the least, and they have the most to lose from what happens in the halls of Congress.
Trying to balance the budget on the backs of the neediest members of society is reprehensible, and it is time to reject this reckless agenda.
Food is one of the basic necessities of life — a statement so obvious that many of our elected officials seem to have forgotten it. There is one easy way to remind them: Vote.
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