Food for Thought: The Shutdown has Ended, Hunger in America Will Not
Over the last several weeks, we all heard heart-wrenching stories of the government shutdown’s impact on the 800,000 furloughed federal workers and more than a million federal contract workers. Missing two paychecks or not getting paid at all also affected their families and children. At Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, and Comic Relief USA, the non-profit behind the Red Nose Day campaign to end child poverty, the stories of people being forced to choose between covering their mortgage or feeding their family have been all too familiar.
These stories bear all the hallmarks of “episodic poverty,” where hard-working Americans, who may have never before experienced a major financial shortfall, suddenly find themselves unable to make ends meet for reasons outside of their control.
Millions of American families may be just one medical bill, unexpected car repair, or – as we have just seen – missed paycheck away from financial problems that could put everything at risk. According to a recent report from the Federal Reserve Board, if faced with a $400 emergency expense, 40% of American adults would either need to borrow money, sell something, or not be able to make that payment. It would also likely surprise most to know that more than half of households served by Feeding America are working families. The recent shutdown has shined a much-needed light on what episodic poverty looks and feels like, and how easily it can occur. And it could happen to anyone.
Although episodic poverty is temporary, the consequences can be long-lasting and dire, from families facing challenges with paying bills to even losing a home. It could take months or years of hardship, financial wrangling and exhausted resources before true stability returns.
And as families recover from these circumstances, kids don’t have months — or even weeks — to spare. Missed meals or poor nutrition can have immediate and lasting effects on a child’s mental and physical health. And despite parents’ every effort to protect them, the stress alone of uncertainty caused by these events can take a real toll on children.
Most people acknowledge that child poverty is a problem internationally. But when it comes to the U.S., child poverty is often misunderstood and underestimated — it is truly an invisible problem. In the US, the poverty threshold is defined as $25,750 for a family of four and often this isn’t enough to meet a family’s most basic needs. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates there are nearly 13 million children in the US living below that poverty threshold—that’s one in six children in America—which is among the highest rates in the developed world.
Yet so many Americans don’t understand the scale of this issue. Poverty affects children in almost every county across the country. The good news is that Americans care deeply about this issue and the innocent children impacted. There are plenty of ways that individuals can help by supporting the many local and national programs addressing child poverty.
Let’s make sure the stories we have seen in recent weeks pave the way to a deeper understanding of the issues that children and families in America are facing every day. Most importantly, let it inspire us to come together and take action to ensure every child has the essentials for the brightest future.
Janet Scardino is CEO of Comic Relief USA. Claire Babineaux-Fontenot is CEO of Feeding America
More about Red Nose Day and Feeding America:
Comic Relief USA’s Red Nose Day, held each May, harnesses the power of entertainment to raise funds and awareness to help end child poverty. Now in its fifth year, this annual fundraiser has helped over 16 million children domestically and internationally and raised nearly $150 million, with half of Red Nose Day’s funds going to programs right here at home across all 50 states and Puerto Rico.
The Feeding America network of 200 food banks serves 60,000 food pantries and meal programs spanning every county across the nation, many of which saw increased demand during this shutdown. Feeding America is on the front line for children and families all year long – from helping to put food on the table at home and providing meals and snacks at Kids Cafes after school to filling backpacks for children who need nutritious food over the weekends and connecting families with critical nutrition assistance programs like SNAP.