Hunger in North Carolina: Real, persistent and getting worse
Have you ever gone to bed hungry? Have you ever skipped a meal so that your children could eat? Have you ever waited in a long line to take home a bag of leftover groceries that was no longer fit for store shelves?
Did you know that 1 in 6 North Carolina households reported serious problems affording adequate nutritious food at some point last year, according to new data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture today. Of the North Carolinians experiencing this food insecurity, some 5.5 percent experienced very low food security – meaning that one or more household members had to reduce their food intake at least some time during the year. And North Carolina and Louisiana lead the nation with the highest percentage of children under 5 years of age who are food insecure on a regular basis: 1 in 4 (23.5%).
One of the most powerful weapons against hunger is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program (SNAP). Some 1.7 million people in North Carolina participate in SNAP and use its benefits to help put a basic diet on the table each day.
Have you ever refused to give food to someone who was hungry?
That’s exactly what the US House of Representatives will vote on as early as next week. One issue that’s flown under the radar this summer is the looming showdown in the House of Representatives over SNAP funding. SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, keeps millions of Americans out of extreme poverty and hunger, but it faces serious threats.
For one, benefits for every single SNAP recipient will be cut automatically in November as an emergency benefit increase begun in 2009 and renewed last year expires. At that point, SNAP benefits will fall to a meager $1.40 per meal.
House Republicans plan to not only slash SNAP funding by an additional $40 billion, but also to make massive structural changes that permanently hobble the program’s ability to protect children, seniors, the disabled and struggling families from utter destitution. The proposed changes include rewriting eligibility rules to cut off recipients who can’t find work, incentivizing states to kick people off SNAP and undermining enrollment programs that help eligible families sign up.
The policy details are complex, but the big picture is clear – unless the House changes course, up to 6 million Americans who are barely getting by right now will soon experience greater food insecurity, hunger and extreme poverty.
Bringing It Home: The Community Lunch at St. Bart’s, Pittsboro, NC
Last week I had the honor of participating in St. Bart’s Community Lunch with the Council’s Rural Life Committee. The Community Lunch is one of the most diverse gatherings of people that you’ll find in a church, and it’s one of the most simple and beautiful expressions of faith-in-action that you’ll ever see. We were there to learn firsthand how churches are working to build community and fight hunger day by day across the state. Hunger is not an abstraction or a statistic for St. Bart’s and for the town of Pittsboro. Extreme poverty and hunger are real, and it takes a whole community – from churches to schools to the state and federal government – to make sure the hungry are fed.
It’s time to stop and ask ourselves and our elected officials: what are we doing? There are hungry children in our neighborhoods, and we are refusing to feed them. There are millions of families living at the brink of disaster and we’re going to deny them food?
Or, in the more eloquent words of Rev. Dr. Russell L. Meyer, executive director of the Florida Council of Churches:
Our nation has the means to feed the hungry and to address poverty successfully. Congress needs to find the will to fight hunger rather than use hunger to fight each other. After all, we do not live in an immoral universe that likes to make children go hungry. We live in a world in which religious leaders such as Jesus plainly say to us as he did to his disciples on the hillside with 5,000 hungry families: ‘You feed them.’
Chris Liu-Beers is a Program Associate at the North Carolina Council of Churches.
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