DC Needs the Insight, Knowledge, Ideas, and Passion of Hunger Advocates - Capital Area Food Bank
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DC Needs the Insight, Knowledge, Ideas, and Passion of Hunger Advocates

By Mary Cheh September 4, 2013

mary-chehThe District of Columbia has made significant strides in the effort to eliminate hunger. In the past three years, with the support of many of my colleagues on the DC Council, I have been able to pass legislation like the Healthy Schools Act of 2010, which requires schools to offer free breakfast to all students and the FEED DC Act, which establishes public/private partnerships to attract and renovate grocery stores in the District’s low-income communities. Additionally, we successfully earmarked $200,000 in the 2014 budget to support the “bonus bucks” program, which allows those receiving SNAP, WIC, and those participating in the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program to increase their buying power at farmers’ markets, helping low-income families purchase more fresh fruits and vegetables.
Although the District can be proud of these accomplishments, we cannot rest on our laurels. We must be vigilant in our work against the persistent ills of society, hunger among them. But the District cannot tackle this problem alone. We need federal programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which helps about 144,000 DC residents put food on the table for their families. Sadly, the 2009 Recovery Act’s temporary boost to the SNAP benefits is scheduled to end on November 1, 2013 and renewal appears unlikely unless hunger advocates here and across the nation put increased pressure on Congress to provide the additional $5 billion needed to sustain the program at its current levels.
If the $5 billion cut is allowed to take effect, the District would see a $15 million reduction in SNAP benefits; a family of four would see a $36 monthly cut in benefits, leaving less than $1.40 per person per meal in 2014. This would be devastating for some of the District’s poorest communities located in food deserts with limited access to fresh produce and unprocessed foods. And limited resources plus limited access to healthy foods is the recipe for perpetuating obesity. No family should have to compromise the quality of their food to accommodate the quantity of food needed to sustain a household, yet these looming cuts to SNAP benefits may indeed make this an unfortunate reality for the nearly 144,000 DC residents receiving these essential benefits. This will also have severe economic implications; grocery stores and neighborhood farmers’ markets are sure to see a decline in revenue, which could mean layoffs, and that would further extend poverty among low-wage earners and continue a cycle of unhealthy eating.
Although the District will begin preparing for the chance that these disastrous cuts will take place, it is up to those of us passionate about the issue of hunger, poverty, economic justice, and the health of our communities to put increased pressure on Congress to provide the $5 billion in funding needed to operate the SNAP program at its current levels. By establishing meaningful partnerships and alliances with economic, poverty, and social justice movements, we can build a coalition of advocates strong enough to get Congress to act on this important issue. Additionally, locally, we must devise contingency plans and innovative short and long term solutions that will ensure that we can still provide the assistance needed to help sustain DC families. As members of a community passionate about the scourge of hunger, I encourage you to reach out to me and to other members of the DC Council to share your ideas on how the District should adjust if the cut to the SNAP program does indeed take place. The District of Columbia needs the insight, knowledge, ideas, and passion of hunger advocates in order to solve both the short and long term challenges to ending hunger once and for all.