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Guest Column

November 2, 2013

Congress playing hunger games

(Continued)

Instead, Congress raised the budget for a school meal by only six cents, and funded it by cutting the daily food stamp allotment by way more than that. This means we can expect another cut to food stamps in 2014 in addition to the $29 cut that began Nov. 1. Unstoppable when it comes to squeezing the poor, the Senate and House are now figuring out by how many more billions to cut the food stamp program. I predict the Senate version, the lesser of the two evils, will prevail. Four billion dollars over ten years is better than $40 billion over ten years, isn’t it?

Except that $4 billion is still $400 million a year. Children will be sicker and hungrier than they are now. The grocery budgets of one million households will be cut—again. These cuts will also increase unemployment as families shop less and stores need fewer employees, thereby multiplying the poverty and anxiety of whole communities.

I once played The Hunger Game at a training for employees of Child Protective Services. The facilitator told us all that “there is nothing that says that children need three meals a day.” This was an absurd statement, since the U.S. school lunch program was an early-20th-century reform, started when we realized that poor children were not eating frequently enough. Years later, we added free breakfast. Even the Irish poorhouse mandated that a child get two meals a day. You are losing the Hunger Game for sure when a social-services trainer tells new workers that its fine to feed modern children less than the famine-stricken 19th century Irish fed theirs.

Not everyone who plays The Hunger Game wants to cut food stamps. Members of Congress such as Sandy Levin, James McGovern, and Joe Crowley and others have worked against cuts. People like Dr. William Booker, Joel Berg, Jeff Bridges and Cardinal Timothy Dolan have, too.

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