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End Childhood Hunger

When kids are hungry, they struggle to learn. When kids don't learn, they struggle in life. Still, 16 million American kids are at risk of going hungry every day. That’s 1 out of every 5 kids. We can and we must do better.

The recession is over, but child poverty and child hunger are still crippling our country.  Although the official measures indicate that the economy is getting better, the July 2015 Kids Count Report shows that around 3 million more American children are living below the poverty line now compared to the beginning of the 2008 recession.

Hunger has expanded to America’s suburbs

Childhood hunger is now invading the suburbs. Fair Share Education Fund’s groundbreaking research has found that the number of children newly eligible for free-and reduced-price school lunches – an indicator of risk of food scarcity – is growing much more quickly in the suburbs than it is in rural areas, urban settings, or small- to mid-sized towns.  In fact, the number of public school children eligible for free- or reduced price lunch has increased since the recession by nearly 4 million. Across the nation, 48% of students who became eligible for the National School Lunch Program around the time of the 2008 recession live in the suburbs. By contrast, 15% live in rural areas, 25% live in cities and 12% live in small- or mid-sized towns.

Ending childhood hunger is an investment in our economic future

Feeing kids is the right thing to do, period. It’s also the right thing to do for our economy.  We know that it is impossible for children who are hungry to concentrate on learning or be healthy enough to regularly attend school. A critical piece of investing in our country’s future is to make sure that children and their families have enough to eat. Plus, it costs more to ignore the problem than it does to solve it.  According to a report by the Center for American Progress and Brandeis University, “hunger costs our nation at least $167.5 billion due to the combination of lost economic productivity per year, more expensive public education because of the rising costs of poor education outcomes, avoidable health care costs, and the cost of charity to keep families fed.”

Our Goal: All kids have enough to eat

Our country should have zero tolerance for childhood hunger. Every kid who lives in a family with incomes so low that they are at risk of going hungry should get access to food through one or more of the federal programs that we know work.

Our Plan: Educate the public and build political urgency

Our approach seeks to address two major reasons why kids suffer from food insecurity in our country. First, many studies have confirmed that existing anti-hunger programs are not being maximized because not everyone is aware of their eligibility or because administrative hurdles can get in the way of efficient implementation. In Colorado in 2013, for example, only 76% of eligible individuals take advantage of the benefits provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. This means that even marginal improvement in the percentage of eligible Colorado households who get connected with existing anti-hunger programs like SNAP could result feeding tens of thousands of hungry kids.

Secondly, ending childhood hunger is an issue with widespread support but not enough urgency. As a result, most of our elected leaders are failing to truly lead on this issue. With few exceptions, our leaders are not using the power of their offices to educate their constituents about effective anti-hunger programs, nor are they really demanding an end to childhood hunger. Because they are prominent public figures with extensive networks in local communities, and because they are often the decision-makers on the policy details, our overall commitment to eradicating childhood hunger must include a real commitment from our elected leaders.

The rise of childhood hunger and poverty in the suburbs presents a strategic organizing opportunity. At a time when partisan rancor and government gridlock leave many people feeling hopeless, the fact that the suburbs now look like the rest of America in terms of bedrock issues such as poverty and hunger may mean that people who live in the suburbs – and the political leaders who represent them – are more willing to cross partisan divides and begin to reach for serious, bipartisan solutions.