Kids have to eat before they can learn. It’s just common sense; cognition is a function of nutrition. The good news is we have the food programs to end childhood hunger, allowing them to more easily learn to read, write and do arithmetic that are keys to breaking out of poverty.
The four food programs funded by Congress that could end childhood hunger if fully funded are: WIC, Head Start, school meal programs and SNAP/food stamps.
WIC, the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women Infants and Children, is our best food assistance program. It provides pre- and post-natal food and nutrition education to mothers and foods for the newborn to age 5. But Congress never fully funds WIC and many needy moms and babies are not able to enroll. Often 20 to 30 percent of the potentially eligible are not served. Rather than limit funding, WIC needs to be an entitlement, free and universally available to every baby and pregnant woman in USA.
Head Start, a proven, successful, early-childhood-educational program, provides good, nutritious meals and snacks. Like WIC, Head Start needs to be free and universal for all our children.
School breakfasts and lunches are crucial to many children. The meals are priced at three levels: free, reduced price or full price, based on the poverty level of the child’s family. How difficult is that to track! Summer meals provided to many of those same children at schools and other locations are free to all children ages 2 to 18 who show up at mealtime. Why not do that at school all year? Just as public education is free, universal and enforced, school meals need to be free and universal for all children.
SNAP/food stamps, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, provides food purchasing power to needy families, elderly and individuals. The food stamp program is one Americans love to hate because of misinformation and fictitious stories. Nearly 70 percent of all food stamps go to households with children. Sadly, not only is the amount funded per meal less than adequate, the application process is difficult.
There is no reason why applying for food stamps cannot be as simple as filing taxes on the one-page E-Z tax form. Food stamps are an entitlement, if eligibility is verified, but additional funding is needed and enrollment needs to be simplified.
Meals provided by faith communities, food pantries and food banks do not, cannot, will not end childhood hunger. At best, they respond to hunger but cannot end it. More important, they are charity, not justice.
It is clear logic that well-fed children will be better students who will be more productive not only for themselves but for our nation. For example, during World War II, many young men and women were so poor, so hungry, they were physically unable to serve in the military. In the ’40s, the poor were thin and weak. Today the poor are obese due to eating cheap empty calories. Poor children and young adults are able to buy the fattening foods because they are less expensive than good foods.
Some will say that parents, not taxpayers, have the responsibility to feed their children. That is not the solution, that is the problem. They are poor and cannot. As the adage goes, it takes a whole village to raise a child. Likewise, it takes the whole nation to raise our children.
It just makes good sense to invest in our children now as an investment in our nation for the long term. Congress must fully fund WIC, Head Start, school meals, food stamps and simplify enrollment into these programs.