Child Nutrition in the War on Poverty
Meghan Mack (Former Staff)Nutrition
This is the 3rd in a series of First Focus blog posts commemorating the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty and offering modern ways to continue fighting child poverty.
This month marked the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s declaration of the War on Poverty, when President Johnson called for every American citizen to be able to fulfill their basic hopes, including providing food for ones’ family. While much work remains to be done on the issues of child nutrition and hunger, programs that came out of the war on poverty have significantly helped children and families gain access to an adequate diet. In addition, these programs have helped lift families out of poverty every year.
Unfortunately in a country as rich as the United States child hunger has not been eradicated. Currently one in five children go to be at night not knowing if they or a family member will go hungry tomorrow. Programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), School Meals Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Woman and Children (WIC) have helped children and families to not go hungry.
These programs have also worked as a bridge (and for some a chance to return) to the middle class. Families receive assistance from important child nutrition programs during tough economic times with the goal that parents eventually are able to provide healthy food and nutrition to their children on their own. Delivering nutrition assistance to help families buy groceries and providing children access to free or reduced school meals allows low income parents to focus their limited family budget on other items such as shelter, medical costs, and child care. In addition SNAP lifted children out of poverty by reducing childhood poverty in 2012 by 1.67 million kids.
While work remains to be done, it is important to highlight the child nutrition programs that keep children across the United States from going hungry every single day. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides funding to schools to operate school breakfast and lunch programs in 100,000 schools each year. Schools provide free or low cost meals to over 30 million children. Not only does USDA help students gain access to food, but legislation passed in 2010 is currently being implemented to make the school food environment healthier so that every student has access to healthier meals and a better school environment.
In addition, almost half of all SNAP beneficiaries are children and SNAP provides over 20 million children with access to food outside of the school day. The SNAP program also works in conjunction with the SNAP-Education program which provides almost half of its funding to schools so that kids learn how to eat healthier. In some schools, SNAP-Ed works in conjunction with the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP), which provides a fresh fruit or vegetable snack to over 3 million low-income elementary students. Additional SNAP-Ed funding goes to programs that teach parents how to buy and prepare healthy food on a limited budget so that families’ SNAP dollars can be used more efficiently.
For the last 40 years the WIC program has been providing millions of women and young children with access to nutrition assistance each year. The WIC program targets the nutritional health of our most vulnerable populations (pregnant women and young children) by providing a prescription like food voucher. This voucher allow participants to get the specific nutritional components that their diets may be lacking, like fruits and vegetable or dairy. The WIC program not only helps the developmental of children once they are born, but also helps so that low-income mothers have a better chance of carrying a child to full term, This tremendously improves the health and well being of mothers and children, but also helps to lower the governments health care costs that are incurred in the instance of a premature or low birth rate newborns.
50 years after the War on Poverty was declared it is important for leaders to build upon what is working and not take steps back. Currently Congress is working to reauthorize the important child nutrition programs of FFVP, SNAP, and SNAP-Ed. Some in Congress have supported as much as 40 billion in cuts to the SNAP program (this cut includes a cut to SNAP-Ed as well). Cuts to SNAP could leave families hungry and many more children wondering where their next meal will come from. Already in November, Congress let SNAP benefits be cut and this jeopardized over 20 million children’s access to food. If Congress decides to make large cuts to the SNAP program hunger issues will only deepen for our nation’s children and we will be further away from winning the war on poverty and reducing child hunger and obesity.