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Despite our higher employment rate, children are still going hungry

REUTERS/Mike Blake
Because the U.S. government provides support to families and children, federal programs such as National School Lunch Program and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are potential solutions to the food security issue.

Re: MinnPost’s article “U.S. diet improves slightly, but gap widens between rich and poor”:

Getting loans to study at the University of Minnesota as an international graduate student, I can relate to families struggling to make ends meet everyday. From time to time, I fill my stomach with instant noodles or a box of macaroni and cheese in order to save some money to pay for my tuition or the insurance bill.

Feeling the pain of my own tight budget, whenever I hear stories about people struggling to survive in today’s society, my heart goes out to them. I have a friend who lives in California. She got divorced last year and has two children to take care of; her children are in 6th and 9th grade. When it rains, it pours. She got fired without any notice this past June. With two children waiting to be fed, she applied for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly called food stamps. Thankfully, her application was approved and she now receives $92 per month to supplement her food budget.

She said, “Ninety-two dollars is a lot for an unemployed single mom. Ninety-two dollars can feed my two children a whole week. “

Because the U.S. government provides support to these families and children, federal programs such as National School Lunch Program and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are potential solutions to the food security issue. Theoretically, the percentage of food insecurity should decrease every year. This doesn’t seem to be the case. So what’s wrong?

Effects of the recession

The economic recession definitely is one of the biggest contributors to the food insecurity. Many people lost their jobs or got their pay cut as a result of the recession in 2008. Unemployed people and their children faced the threat of hunger because they lost the stable monthly income. Even though the unemployment rate has slightly improved over these years, the prevalence of food insecurity still remains the same in 2013. This is because the inflation rate offsets the incremental increase of the employment rate.

Olivia Wong
Olivia Wong

Think about it. The answer is not too surprising. You and I are also victims of inflation nowadays. Do you tighten your belt after paying all the rent, insurance and bills? The United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Services found that the observed decline of 1.65 percentage points in the highest monthly unemployment rate over the period would have reduced the prevalence of food insecurity by 0.9 percentage points. However, this decline was almost offset by effects of higher annual inflation and higher annual relative price of food in 2012.   

The federal government uses household incomes to determine eligibility for those food programs. But food insecurity in the household doesn’t only exist in low-income families. Hungers Solutions Minnesota indicates that families living with a fixed income are facing the problem of food insecurity. Children in these households may not be eligible for federal government programs, but they also need help!

Negative impacts affect learning

Studies by Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry and the National Dairy Council show that food-insecure children skip more classes and tend to get distracted easily in class. These negative impacts prevent them from learning. In the long run, food-insecure children become less competitive in the work force. There is a downward spiral for these children.

Congress cut SNAP funding earlier this year. I urge the local government to really listen to people’s voices. Because of action in the state Legislature, there are 62,000 additional students receiving free lunches in Minnesota. But the issue is still there. The problem is how to precisely identify the needy group and then fill their needs.

I think we should examine and modify the design of these programs. I believe if local government officials walk into the community and observe our daily lives, they will learn the truth behind all the statistics: Children are being threatened by hunger.

Olivia Wong is a graduate student at University of Minnesota, majoring in public health administration and policy. She is currently working on the issue of food insecurity in Minnesota.

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