I saw a report recently about a research project that had been conducted by an organization called Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). The research undertook to find out what Americans know about the issue of hunger in our country, and how Americans think the problem should be dealt with. FRAC is the lead advocacy organization working to end hunger in America through stronger public policies.
There were several findings from this research that I found interesting, and one piece of information I found quite surprising.
According to the article, the research found that 45% of American adults believe that hunger is a serious problem, while only 15% don’t believe it is a problem at all. Two of every five Americans have either experienced hunger in the past year, or they personally know someone who has, and that includes nearly half of all people between the ages of 18 and 34.
Three of every 10 Americans, and half of the members of the Millennial Generation, say that either they or a member of their family have used government food assistance programs in the past couple of years. According to the article, that includes at least 25% of nearly every major demographic category. Which I take to mean that hunger is an equal opportunity malady.
The article points out that 64% of women and 49% of men believe that hunger is a worse problem today than it was before the recession began, and this finding cuts across party lines with 56% of Republicans, 54% of Democrats and 60% of Independents believing this to be true.
As to how to address the issue, the article reads, “The vast majority of Americans believe that hunger is a major problem for the country and they are looking to government to lead and develop solutions.” Jim Weill, President of FRAC is quoted as saying “For Congress, the answer is clear. Americans want to see investments in food assistance programs that help struggling families get the food they need.”
Now, it would be easy to brush off this article, and this research, as just another piece of partisan grandstanding, designed to make a political point. So that’s where the surprising piece of information mentioned above comes in. This research was conducted jointly by two different research firms; Hart Research Associates, a Democratic firm, and Chesapeake Beach Consulting, a Republican firm. It’s not very often that you see research firms from both sides of the political aisle collaborating on a project and coming to the same conclusion.
Which leads me to ask, if Americans from across the country who were surveyed for this research get it; if they understand that hunger in America is a very real problem and that it is up to Congress to take the lead in helping solve it, why then don’t those people who supposedly represent us in Congress, or at the State Legislature, get it? Why, if the majority of Americans believe it is up to our legislators to develop and fund programs that will effectively address hunger, do those same legislators cut programs like SNAP, one of the single most effective and efficient hunger fighting programs ever devised?
Or why, at the state level, don’t our lawmakers appropriate an adequate amount of money to support the food shelves that are the front line for feeding people who are hungry throughout the State? If there are 400,000 people in Minnesota who are food insecure (and I believe that is a conservative number) then the amount of money the state currently makes available to support food shelves is sufficient to allow the average food shelf to provide each person with food for one meal. The milk subsidy, which the state makes available to food shelves through Second Harvest Heartland, doesn’t begin until July 1 each year and is exhausted by the middle of October at the latest. Which means that food shelves then pay near retail for milk for the next eight and a half months before the next subsidy kicks in.
What this research tells us is that, at least as far as the issue of hunger is concerned, those people who make policy and pass laws are out of touch with the people who put them in office in the first place. Whether it is through lack of access to information, or a deliberate attempt to avoid information they don’t want to hear, they are out of step with the populace. This well-constructed and well-executed research is unequivocal on that point.
It’s up to each and every one of us to make sure our lawmakers get it! It is up to us to demand that lawmakers make ending hunger a priority and take the lead role in making sure programs and funding are in place to make this a reality.