Thirty-five million people in this nation are living on the brink of hunger. That is one in ten Americans, and includes 12 million children. It is hard to understand how this is reality in a nation so blessed by its rich agricultural abundance.
Hunger is one of the most solvable problems in America. America's Second Harvest - The Nation's Food Bank Network is a group that provides emergency food assistance to more than 25 million hungry people each year, 4.5 million each week. The Food Bank of Western New York, which has been a member of America's Second Harvest since 1979, provides food to more than 100,000 residents in Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie and Niagara counties each month through more than 400 member agencies. The Food Bank distributes more than 1 million pounds of food product each month.
These people are working poor, many of them employed mothers and fathers whose meager salaries are too low to pay for basic needs or whose monthly food stamps run out after two and a half weeks. They are low-income children in need of nourishment; and they are our grandparents and disabled neighbors who must choose between buying groceries or buying medicine.
Food banks and local hunger relief agencies are working desperately to reduce and eventually end hunger in America, but we cannot do it alone. We must have a national commitment to ending hunger in this country.
Federal nutrition programs are essential, critical resources for hungry families in America. These programs are authorized under a multi-year, omnibus Farm Bill. This year Congress will take up the reauthorization of a Farm Bill that will set forth this nation's nutrition assistance blueprint for the next five or six years.
Reps. James McGovern, D-Mass., and Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., have taken a major step toward this goal by introducing the Feeding America's Families Act, which would provide $20 billion in new investment for federal nutrition programs over the next five years. The bill contains nutrition policy recommendations that must be considered as Congress deliberates on the next Farm Bill. These proposals present the opportunity to help more needy families, elderly and working poor gain access to food stamps. They also offer sound proposals to increase benefits -- now so meager that they average $1 per person per meal -- so that our nation's struggling needy can afford more fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy and other nutrient rich products.
The next Farm Bill offers a powerful opportunity for the Congress to set a policy direction that will move us forward in the battle to ensure that no one in America goes to bed hungry. We applaud Reps. Brian Higgins and Louise Slaughter for co-sponsoring this very important bill, and we urge our other local members of Congress and the United States Senate to do the same.
Clem Eckert is president and CEO of the Food Bank of Western New York.