Anti-Hunger Groups Hoping For Action on Stalled Farm Bill

By Heather Donckels
Religion News Service
Saturday, November 24, 2007; Page B09

As millions of Americans stocked their kitchens for their Thanksgiving feast, many religious and other groups were concerned about those who will go hungry this holiday weekend and in the weeks and months to come.

Rising food prices make it harder for families to put food on the table and more difficult for food banks to keep their shelves stocked. Advocates say the farm bill stalled in the Senate would help fix part of the problem.

"We need for Congress to pass a farm bill this year," said Maura Galy, vice president of government relations for America's Second Harvest, the largest food bank network in the country.

The bill, which passed the House, would increase the amount of mandatory funding to the Emergency Food Assistance Program, which aids food banks, from $140 million to $250 million annually, Galy said.

Catholic Charities USA released a report on Nov. 15 that showed that the number of people receiving food from church-affiliated agencies increased by 2.7 million between 2002 and 2006, and that many agencies struggle to provide food for their clients.

Catholic Charities has joined Bread for the World, which identifies itself as "a nationwide Christian movement that seeks justice for the world's hungry people by lobbying our nation's decision makers," in its goal to cut poverty in half by 2020. Their Campaign to Reduce Poverty in America is asking the government "to give the needs of the poor a higher priority in budget and policy decisions."

Jean Daniel, spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture, said "we're very concerned about the people who live in food insecure households."

An Agricultural Department study, released Nov. 14, showed that the number of people living in U.S. households with "food insecurity" -- where their normal diets changed due to lack of food or money -- increased from 35.1 million in 2005 to 35.5 million in 2006.

Joining America's Second Harvest in its call for government intervention, the Bread for the World Institute released its annual hunger report on Monday calling for the United States to "make it a national goal to cut hunger and poverty in half by 2015."

The report applauded the government's recent decision to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour by July 2009, but stressed that low-income families also need access to affordable health insurance and child care.

"It is not up to government alone to do everything," the report said. "Employers, families and communities share the responsibility. But government must lead by example, setting policies that promote prosperity for all, not just a few."

In a news conference last week the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless released a report that chided 22 cities for new laws that they say punish individuals and groups who feed the homeless in public areas.

In Dallas, for example, "anyone caught sharing food with a homeless person without a permit may be fined up to $2,000 and/or jailed for up to six months," the report said.

"We need to encourage, not arrest, good Samaritans," said Michael Stoops, the acting executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless.

The report offered the city of Cleveland as a positive model for other cities to follow. Instead of punishing organizations for feeding the homeless, the city collaborated with those organizations to deal with the problem of hunger.

"The holiday season should be a time of joy and celebration," said the president of Catholic Charities, the Rev. Larry Snyder, "but instead it is often difficult for the hungry, the homeless and the working poor."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company