Home » News » Republicans Have A Pro-Child Starvation Policy. Why Is It Not A National Disgrace?

Republicans Have A Pro-Child Starvation Policy. Why Is It Not A National Disgrace?

People receive food at a weekly distribution by the ICNA Relief Hunger Prevention Program in Brooklyn on Oct. 16. After pandemic food assistance ended, more than 1.7 million New York City residents rely on food stamps. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

There is an ongoing hunger crisis in America.

Full stop.

According to a report released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2022, as many as 44.2 million people lived in households that had difficulty getting enough food to feed everyone ― an increase from 33.8 million the year prior ― and that figure included more than 13 million children facing food insecurity.

When the report was released, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement: “These numbers are more than statistics. They paint a picture of just how many Americans faced the heartbreaking challenge last year of struggling to meet a basic need for themselves and their children.”

Much of the fault lay with inflation ― notably rising costs at the grocery store ― and the end of many pandemic-era programs that helped offset these woes. 

The problem has not gotten any better. I don’t need a report to confirm it. I can see it with my own eyes. When I walk around parts of Koreatown in Los Angeles or when I drive through the city on a Saturday morning and see long lines of people in need of free food.

Or when I learned that the CEO of Kellogg went on national TV and gleefully shared the company’s strategy to “meet the customer where they are” and advertise cereal for dinner with new Tony the Tiger ads.

“The cereal category has always been quite affordable, and it tends to be a great destination when consumers are under pressure,” Gary Pilnick explained on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We gotta meet the consumer where they are, so we’re advertising cereal for dinner. If you think about the cost of cereal for a family versus what they might otherwise do, that’s going to be much more affordable.”

If only those struggling could eat the rich. 

Congress, useless as it may usually be, actually did something to try to directly aid children suffering from this national shame.

It arrived in the form of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer program, modeled after Pandemic EBT, which helped families pay for meals using an EBT card loaded with benefits when schools, a known lifeline for tens of millions of kids, were closed to in-person learning during the COVID crisis.

The Summer EBT program will provide $120 per student to families that qualify for free and reduced-price lunch to cover the costs of groceries during the summer months.

Thanks to a government funding bill Congress passed in December 2022, the program will become permanent. The USDA says the program could potentially reduce the number of children experiencing very low food security by about one-third. More than 21 million kids will benefit once it launches in June.

The problem, though, is that so far, only 35 states, five U.S. territories, and four tribes plan to participate.

The deadline to join was the start of this year, and regrettably, more than 15 Republican governors have said that they will turn down federal money to feed low-income children.

The Milk from the Heart program makes weekly deliveries to Washington Heights and 12 other locations in Manhattan and the Bronx on Oct. 6, 2011, in New York City.

The Milk from the Heart program makes weekly deliveries to Washington Heights and 12 other locations in Manhattan and the Bronx on Oct. 6, 2011, in New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Some have given reasons, dumb as they may sound. Like Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, who said she saw no need for the extra money for hungry kids “when childhood obesity has become an epidemic.” 

I suppose I should not be surprised that the person who endorsed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for president could sound so empty and evil in her thinking.

Other Republican governors, as The Washington Post noted in its story about the GOP pushback on helping fight child hunger in America, were even more blunt.

“I don’t believe in welfare,” Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen explained when asked why he rejected the money.

Pillen ultimately changed his mind after Nebraska state Sen. Jen Day, a Democrat, introduced a bill to require participation and found a Republican ally as well as a swell of support from voters in rural areas. 

She applied pressure, and, fortunately, in some cases shame still works.

What I don’t understand is why such efforts have not been replicated for the holdout states: Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont and Wyoming.

I can understand why the issue hasn’t been nationalized. Much of the mainstream news is managed by detached rich people who could care less about the poor when stoking viewers’ fears about crime is better for business. But that means it is incumbent on Democrats to make it an issue.

I would rather not see Donald Trump become president again, but the responsibility for that lies with President Joe Biden and his Democratic Party. And right now, when it comes to how to talk about the economy, they are struggling.

Yes, we are all grateful that the Biden/Harris administration did not allow the country to suffer during the plague as badly as other nations.

And, yes, there are plenty of great economic signs that Biden has every right to be personally proud of, but “Bidenomics” is not a selling point to a public that continues to be consumed by how expensive it is to be alive.

If I were Biden or head of the Democratic Party, I’d stop waiting for credit about a revived economy that will likely never come and start picking fights with Republicans on issues some struggling voters might appreciate. 

It was a mistake to not use political capital to pressure Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) into supporting the continued expansion of the child tax credit, which cut child poverty in half. 

It would be another mistake to allow Republicans ― and their Democrat-when-convenient friend ― to wield their power to hurt American children. 

They have boasted about their plans for a nationwide ban on the universal free lunch.

If Republicans could falsely brand Democrats as “groomers,” they should be branded as pro-child starvation.

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