Solutions must address income inequality
Though nearly one in six Ohio families lack reliable access to food, it’s a problem that often flies under the radar.
Moms and dads are skipping meals so they can feed their kids. Our seniors are rationing food to one meal a day to get by. And so often, they are struggling in silence, ashamed to admit they need help. We all share a responsibility to make our communities stronger by ending the stigma surrounding food insecurity and eradicating hunger.
We can’t fight food insecurity without first addressing its underlying cause — economic insecurity. Growing income inequality, due to stagnant wages and the disappearance of defined benefit retirement plans, has many Ohioans struggling to make ends meet and provide enough healthful food for their families, despite working harder and harder.
Last winter, Congress took a big step in supporting working families by permanently extending the earned income tax credit (EITC), one of the most effective anti-poverty programs we have. The EITC puts more of workers’ own hard-earned money back in their pockets, allowing them to purchase necessities they couldn’t otherwise afford — heat during the winter, trips to the doctor and groceries for themselves and their children.
Low-income workers without children, however, receive much lower EITC benefits or none at all, making them the only group of workers that can literally be taxed into poverty. Congress must build on the success of the EITC and expand the tax cut for workers without children. When hardworking Americans have more of their own money in their pockets, they don’t have to choose between paying their rent and putting nutritious food on the table.
There’s also a role for my fellow Buckeyes — who have always demonstrated a deep commitment to public service — in helping to end hunger in Ohio. Local food banks are facing rising demand and often are looking for volunteers and specific food donations to help fill the gaps when their funding is not enough.
You also can be a resource to your friends and neighbors, helping raise awareness about the more than 1,700 summer camps, schools, churches, synagogues, pools and recreation centers, and other organizations that host Summer Food Service Program sites in Ohio. Right now, these sites are underutilized, and many of the more than 800,000 Ohio children who are eligible for free or reduced lunches during the school year are missing out on healthful meals during the summer.
The Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act, which reauthorizes the Child Nutrition Act and makes the nutrition programs and resources available to our children more effective, would require additional research on why more families don’t utilize this invaluable resource. The 2016 version earned unanimous bipartisan support from the Senate Agriculture Committee, and by passing the full bill through Congress, we can shed light on how to encourage better participation in the Summer Food Service Program.
One barrier to participation we’ve already discovered is a lack of access to the food sites. Sixteen percent of children from low-income families across the nation live in communities that are unable to operate an open summer meals site. I am an original cosponsor of a bipartisan plan to expand the program’s reach so that all interested families can participate. The Hunger Free Summer for Kids Act would allow states to provide summer meals to children who don’t have designated feeding sites near their homes or who face challenges in making it to a site.
To end food insecurity, we must throw our support behind local initiatives to feed our fellow Ohioans as well as policies that reward hard work and build ladders to the middle class.
Hunger is a preventable health issue — and it’s up to us to work together and ensure the problems of today don’t follow us tomorrow.
Democrat Sherrod Brown holds a master’s degree in education and a master’s in public policy and management from Ohio State. He is a member of the U.S. Senate’s Agriculture Committee and chair of its Subcommittee on Jobs, Rural Economic Growth and Energy Innovation. He resides in Cleveland.
To find a Summer Food Service Program in your area or become a school meal sponsor, visit education.ohio.gov. Families can call the National Hunger Hotline at 866-3HUNGRY for assistance in English and 877-8HAMBRE for assistance in Spanish.
Answers to food insecurity lie in research, reformAs this year’s Buckeye Summit at Ohio State demonstrated, access to healthful and affordable food is an issue that affects too many families in Ohio and across the nation.