Now Is The Time

Ending hunger, homelessness, and the cycle of poverty...in heels.

In the United States more than 633,000 people experience homelessness every night.  48.9 million Americans are at risk of hunger - including one in five kids. Nearly 50 million Americans are living in poverty.  Hunger, homelessness, and poverty are devastating for individuals and our communities. This is unacceptable, unjust, and illogical.

We know that effective, commonsense policies like SNAP and EITC lift people out of poverty. We know that Rapid Rehousing and Housing First models reduce homelessness. We know that innovative philanthropic endeavors like Collective Impact and Social Impact Bonds can transform the way government, nonprofits, and local communities work together to tackle our toughest challenges. We know we can band together and create change.

Now Is The Time to get this done.

This site will feature a collection of personal reflections, original ideas, and smart thinking from around the country and the globe on the issues of hunger, homelessness, and poverty.  We'll check in with thought leaders and discuss ways we can create change. We will also highlight ways to leverage two of my favorite things - National Service and the philanthropic sector. 

47 Million Face Empty Dinner Plates

Putting a healthy meal on the dinner table got a whole lot harder today for 47 million Americans. $5 Billion in cuts to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, go into effect and will reduce the monthly benefit for every single household who relies on this program.The loss of benefits could mean 21 fewer meals for a family of four each month. We're taking food off the plates of young kids, veterans and seniors. We know that hungry kids can't learn, that hungry adults can't concentrate at work, and that hungry seniors are at greater risk. By reducing SNAP, we are cutting into our best front-line defense against hunger.

So, why is this happening?  Congress increased SNAP benefits at the start of the recession to help struggling families and boost the economy. It worked. It prevented a dramatic rise in hunger, and because every $5 in new SNAP benefits generates as much as $9 of economic activity - it supported local communities. Three years ago Congress voted to end the increase. At the time, Democrats supported the cuts so that they could increase funding for healthy school meal. Many thought - and promised - they'd be able to restore funding in future years. Funding hasn't been restored and today we face the the impact of that decision.

These cuts are bad, but they could get worse. Congress continues to debate the Farm Bill - which provides funding for SNAP. The House and Senate have both proposed further cuts to the program which would be devastating for hungry families.. At one time SNAP enjoyed bipartisan support - we all rallied together with the belief that no one in the United States should struggle with hunger. Today SNAP is a polarizing topic - seen as a program favored by the left.  Media hyperbole and allegations of waste, fraud and abuse make many unsympathetic to the cause.

The reality is Food Stamps are an effective and efficient way of reducing hunger and poverty. Reducing benefits means more people will go to area food banks - and they simply don't have the capacity to feed all the hungry households. We can't rely on charity alone to solve hunger.  We need a strong safety-net that can there for people when they need it most. and SNAP is just that.

Get on the phone and contact your Congressional delegation. The stakes are high - too high for hungry families.  

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What if.....?

What if you were among the 1 in 5 kids at risk of hunger in the United States? Or, one of the 400,000 kids the Children's Alliance estimates living in a food insecure household in WA?

What if..... you were Ed, a single dad struggling to get by each day. Your SNAP (food stamps) benefits were cut and your don't have anything in the Cupboard for breakfast? Your two kids will go to school with empty bellies.

What if....you were Emily, a six year old who came to school without breakfast? Now you are struggling to concentrate on your spelling worlds and distracting other kids.

What if.....you were Jon, a hungry 12 year old whose bus gets to school after breakfast is served at school?  You have a big math test but your stomach is growling, making it very hard to concentrate.

What if....you were  Ms. Wachter, a young teacher with a number of hungry kids in your third grade classroom?  Hungry kids are easily distracted and struggle to focus. You buy granola bars from Costco but have limited resources to keep up with demand.

What if.....your kid was hungry and you couldn't make your limited dollars stretch any further? What would you do?

A report commissioned by Share Our Strength, a national leader in fighting child hunger, found that 90% of educators believe breakfast is critical to academic achievement.  Unfortunately, they also found that 73% of teachers have students who regularly come to school hungry because they don't have enough food at home. Hungry kids can't learn.

Congress realized that Breakfast Matters in the mid 1960's. As a result they launched the National School Breakfast Program to compliment the National School Lunch Programs (links available once the gov. is back up and running). The program is highly effective but less than 50% of eligible kids participate.  That means too many kids - like Emily and Jon - go without the food they need to fuel them through the school day. 

A leading reason kids don't participate.... breakfast is served before kids get to school. This is a no brainer. We can change this. Moving breakfast after the bell means more kids with full tummies. It means leveraging millions of federal dollars to put cafeteria staff to work.  It means more kids are prepared to succeed I school.

Last year the state of Colorado passed legislation mandating school breakfast happen after the bell in low income districts. They followed other communities, including DC and New Mexico, in implementing Breakfast After the Bell.  We could do that in WA.  WA anti-hunger advocates exploring similar legislation and need your help to make it a reality.  What if your family hit hard times? What if your kids went to school hungry?. School Breakfast can help - but only if kids can access it.. We can make it happen - now is the time. Let's do this one simple thing for kids in Washington this year.

 

Clear Goals & Clear Roles Needed to End Hunger Now

This was first posted on the United Way of King County Blog.

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I'm in DC this week talking about food policy and what it takes to end hunger with hundreds of our nations leaders in this area.  I am looking forward to learning about new data and best practices, speaking with elected officials about the impact of sequestration and deficit reductions, and sharing information about the work we are doing to create a Hunger Free King County.

We kicked off with the third annual Hunger Free Communities Conference.  It started with some good news.....the new film A Place at the Table, perfectly timed with the start of sequestration, is raising awareness like nothing else has in my generation. Health Care Reform promises to help stabilize millions of low income families, and the rate of food insecurity has leveled  despite the Great Recession - do in great part to advocates maintaining a strong SNAP program. Additionally, promises from the Obama Administration about immigration reform and minimum wage hikes have advocates like me hopeful that we will eventually have new tools in our fight against hunger.

Positives aside, the numbers are alarming.  50 million Americans, including 1 in 4 kids, are at risk of hunger.  53 percent of babies born in the US rely on the WIC program.  It doesn't take 800 anti-hunger advocates and thought leaders to tell you why......it's about education, jobs, income inequality, and poverty. This national travesty will not be solved until we the people stand up, step out and stop retreating.  The challenge ahead is how we organize our work, leverage resources, and build our movement to feed hungry families today while aggressively advocating for the policies needed to tackle these HUGE social and economic issues.

The beauty of the Anti-Hunger Policy Conference is that it brings together front line emergency responders, funders, and policy experts. It can be overwhelming to think about how to meet increased demand, solve these long term policy issues, and keep your doors open.   The conference provides a venue for dynamic conversations, resource sharing and healthy debate about how we increase our impact.

And greater impact is what it is all about.  While we know that it will take policy reform to change the trajectory for many who are born or fall into poverty.....we do have federally funded nutrition supports in place that could help feed more hungry people today. Increasing utilization of SNAP, Summer Meals, School Breakfast etc. would have major impact and would reduce the number of people - especially children - who are hungry.  I worry that at times our sector gets overwhelmed by the bigger problem and loses focus on what is possible and really needed today.  Don't get me wrong, we are making progress on utilization of these resources. National leaders ranging from Food Research & Action Center and Share Our Strength to the Walmart Foundation and USDA FNS have invested time and resources to expand participation.  But greater cooperation from state and local partners, more targeted outreach and more aggressive program offerings are needed to achieve greater impact.

When I head back to the other Washington later this week, my colleagues and community partners will ask  (at least I hope they do)  - how are we going to move the needle on hunger?  My answer - move from collaboration to Collective Impact.  It's nice to share resources, have soft/informal partnerships, and to have lot's and lot's of joint meetings.  But nice doesn't end hunger.  Service duplication doesn't end hunger.  Programs w/o good outcomes don't end hunger.  Neither do high impact programs with funding gaps.  If we are going to end hunger we need clear goals, clear roles, and aligned investments to scale what works.  SNAP works.  School Meals work.  Advocacy works.  The opportunity in front of us is to put the puzzle pieces together (data, funding, volunteers, legislation, infrastructure, programs etc.) in a more cohesive and aligned way.  I'm confident we can end hunger and make sure everyone has "A Place at the Table".