Congress must end child hunger now
The holiday season is fast approaching and every Democrat in the House is still fighting for their piece of the pie in the Build Back Better Act. But there are kids all over the country who won’t have any pies at all this holiday season. Amid the twists and turns, tight margins and delayed votes on Capitol Hill making headlines, one thing remains true: American families need to know that their representatives are working for them. And at the simplest level, it comes down to helping families meet their basic needs, including making sure their children don’t go hungry.
According to the USDA, more than 38 million people, including 12 million children in the United States, are food insecure. The pandemic has increased food insecurity among families with children and communities of color, who already faced hunger at much higher rates before the pandemic. Every community in the country is home to families who suffer from hunger. But rural communities are particularly affected by hunger.
The problem is more prevalent than you might think – and it can be hidden. Williamson County, Tennessee is the 8th richest county in the United States. 30,000 of its 42,000 K-12 students depend on school meals for their food. It’s 71 percent.
Just this weekend, we learned that approximately 160,000 active duty military personnel are struggling to feed their families. They defend our country, but they cannot feed their children. That’s why hundreds of retired generals and admirals are pressuring lawmakers on the Hill to tackle this growing national nutrition crisis. Because the way things are going poses an existential threat to our nation’s future and our ability to maintain an all-volunteer force. Policymakers in Washington prioritized food security at the start of the pandemic, but they can’t stop now.
House Democrats are still working to build consensus and pass a family investment program – which includes answers to the lingering hunger problem – to send to the Senate. Significant funding to expand the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) is at stake. This proven and common sense little provision allows more children to be fed in school without poverty tests or red tape, by especially in communities that need help the most. A robust CEP would make school meals available to every child who needs them.
Although it looks like House Democrats are on the verge of passing their side of the bill, Senators need to step up their efforts on child nutrition. This means not only keeping CEP intact, but also maintaining meaningful funding that makes a difference. To the public, it seems lawmakers are currently focused on fighting. But ending child hunger is popular in rural, suburban and urban areas. It can be a bipartisan victory that makes a profound difference in the daily lives of families across the country.
Most importantly, we know it works. We fed all the kids in public schools from Kindergarten to Grade 12 due to the pandemic measures, and it is making a difference. We have seen how effective it is because it puts food directly into children’s mouths without asking questions. Students with greater food security have higher retention and better attendance, graduation rates, and academic performance. Graduates are much more likely to have a job and make an economic contribution to their local communities.
When Congress passes something, whatever it is, keep CEP in there, fund it solidly, and make sense of it, because ending child hunger is a simple and crucial victory. This is the certainty that American families need right now. And that allows everyone to pull up a chair and sit down at the American table.
Bradley Tusk is a venture capitalist and political strategist who previously served as campaign manager for former New York mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg. He is the Founder and CEO of Tusk Philanthropies, which funds and leads legislative campaigns in states to expand access to food aid programs, especially breakfast and lunch at school.