Former Rep. Eva Clayton Remarks: How Federal Nutrition Programs Help End Hunger in America

July 15, 2015

The following are remarks delivered by former Congresswoman Eva Clayton at the National Action Network Conference in Washington, DC on July 9, 2015.

Undated Photo of former Congresswoman Eva Clayton.

Undated Photo of former Congresswoman Eva Clayton addressing a conference audience.

Good morning to all. Rev. Sharpton and the National Action Network thank you for your leadership and commitment to the many critical areas that afford community sustainability and advancement.  I, too, share your commitment to affordable housing for the working poor and middle class and have shared my op-ed on the subject.  I personally want to thank you for the opportunity to speak about a concern that I passionately care about, hunger.  Good health and good nutrition go together, especially with children.

We need the help of all attending this conference, especially the ministers.  I trust that all of us care about our children and their future.  Many of the ministers here have active ministries to feed the hungry consistent with your faith and commitment to humanity.  Hungry families’ future and our future are tied together.  Poor nutrition results in poor health.  Poor nutrition is very harmful to individuals, and is also costly to society in terms in terms of productivity and education.

We need your active engagement with members of Congress in the reauthorization of child nutrition programs and to support the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which formerly was known as food stamps.

So, just how hungry is America? According to the Food Research and Action Center, which is the leading anti-hunger advocacy organization based here in DC,  1 in 7 American households are food insecure, which means they can’t afford to put food on the table. The fact is there is not a community in America that is immune to hunger, even if it goes largely unseen and untold.

Of course, the impact of hunger is a lot more than just statistics. It’s about people with disabilities burdened with medical bills, seniors being forced to choose between food and medicine, kids going to school hungry, working adults trying to make ends meet, and veterans struggling to find jobs.

But I’m here to tell you some good news. And that is hunger is solvable. We know what works to fix it; we just need the political will to make it happen. And we all have a role to play in urging Congress to invest in federal nutrition programs. These programs are working—and without them, hunger in this country would be far, far worse.

The time for action is now. This year, federal child nutrition programs—such as school breakfast, school lunch, afterschool meals and summer meals—are set for reauthorization. It is my hope that both parties of Congress will work together to make these very good programs even better.

As a former Member of Congress who served on the House Agriculture Committee, I remember working with Republicans, Democrats, and Independents to expand access to meals and healthy food for low-income people. Despite rumors of the death of bi-partisanship, I still have faith that reaching across the aisle remains a healthy habit of Congress. Again, I hope our representatives will unite on behalf of ending hunger and improving nutrition in America.

Let me just share some examples of how federal nutrition programs are making a difference in the lives of millions of Americans, including adults, children and families who live in your own respective communities.

Free or reduced-price school meals are ensuring children get the nutrition they need to keep up their test scores, attendance and good behavior.  The new healthy nutrition standards inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama was introduced in the 2012-2013 school year have been well-received by a vast majority of schools nationwide. In fact, 95 percent of schools are meeting the updated standards. Given this progress, it is hard to comprehend why some in Congress want to roll back on these standards—the very standards that are helping to ensure the health and well-being of millions of children. We need to speak up and urge Congress to protect and improve these programs.

When school is out, afterschool and summer feeding programs play a critical role in closing the hunger gap for millions of children. Right now, children across the country are gathering at churches—perhaps even your own, parks, libraries, Ys, and Boys & Girls Clubs, to eat a nutritious meal. These programs draw children into educational and enrichment activities ensuring that children are learning, safe, and active, while their parents are working. The upcoming reauthorization provides an opportunity to improve and strengthen these critical programs. We need to speak up and urge Congress to protect and improve these programs.

Now, I’d like to turn to SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.

Time and again, SNAP has proven to be effective at keeping and/or lifting people out of poverty while ensuring 46 million people, including children, receive the nutrition they need. That is why I am quite puzzled and disturbed that some in Congress are actually proposing disastrous cuts to SNAP when they should be thinking of how to protect and strengthen the program.

If this were to happen, millions of people would lose this critical benefit that provides them with the basic necessity of food. Children would bear the brunt of these cuts and seniors also would be hit especially hard. We must speak up and urge Congress to protect and strengthen SNAP.

There are so many inspiring stories about people whose lives have been transformed for the better thanks to federal nutrition programs. If you know of someone who is willing to share their story about how federal nutrition programs have helped them, there are a few things you can do. You can schedule a meeting for you and the program beneficiary to meet with your representative during August recess. Or, contact your local paper to see if they’d be interested in a feature story. There also is a great new app from the founders of StoryCorps (as heard on NPR) that allows you to record interviews with a program beneficiary right from your phone. These stories are then archived in the Library of Congress and can be easily shared on social media, with Congress and traditional media.

Poll results show that an overwhelming majority of Americans look to government to end hunger. But we, too, have to do our part. All of us in this room can be part of the solution to ending hunger in America. We must speak up and urge Congress to do the right thing. I encourage you to visit the Food Research and Action Center’s website, FRAC.org, to learn more about these programs and how you can get involved.

The time to act is now.  The well-being of our children – and the future of our nation– depend on it.

Thank you.