Last year, Washington’s rate of hunger hit an all-time high since the federal government began keeping records 16 years ago, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
From 2007 to December 2011, 75,000 more Washington households have found themselves unable to provide enough food for their kids. One in four of our state’s 1.5 million children are coping with hunger. That’s a lot of empty refrigerators, meal-stretching and meal-skipping, and nights spent worrying about where the next meal comes from.
Fixing childhood hunger should be easy: give kids three meals a day where they live, learn and play. A variety of tools can accomplish this: school meals, summer lunches, afterschool meals and snacks and food stamps (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or “Basic Food” in our state). In Washington, we recognize that hunger doesn’t discriminate based on where you’re from. So for more than a decade our State Food Assistance program has been there for legal immigrant families when Basic Food has not.
Our anti-hunger infrastructure is working hard – and well. Food stamps reach 9 out of 10 eligible families – a participation rate far better than most other states’. This summer, kids could eat lunch in 800 parks, schools, churches or community centers. There are close to 500 food pantries throughout the state.
Still, too many Washingtonians go hungry. Some families are isolated in rural communities without transportation to food stamp offices or computer access. Others can’t access resources in their language. Some parents work two or three jobs and aren’t able to stand in food stamp or food bank lines during regular business hours.
In tough times we need to sustain things that work. This summer, cuts to the State Food Assistance program left thousands of immigrant families, mostly families of color, with less than $2 per person per meal for food. Singling out immigrant families isn’t the right solution for the state’s budget woes. When the Legislature reconvenes in January, we’ll be working to restore State Food Assistance.
We are also working to prevent disastrous cuts in nutrition programs at the federal level. This includes proposals to slash the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and turn food stamps into a block grant, which would end the program’s ability to respond to tough times. Another cut Congress is considering is rolling back measures that allow our state to simplify program rules to make food stamps more accessible for working families.
The Children’s Alliance will be there to demonstrate to our Congressional delegation why these proposals are bad for kids, and bad for Washington.