Spotlight Exclusives

Using Every Tool to End Hunger

Posted on

Hunger is getting worse in America and around the world. Latest figures show that over 36 million Americans went hungry at some point last year. Rising energy costs, skyrocketing food prices and a slowing economy all but guarantee that this figure will rise. This is not something the most prosperous nation in the history of the world should be proud of, but it is something we can solve.

I firmly believe that hunger is a political condition with a political solution. We have the means to combat and end hunger. We have the necessary anti-hunger programs in place. Yet we continue to lack the political will to fully fund these programs and end hunger once and for all in the United States and around the world.

That۪s why I am pleased that my home state of Massachusetts is taking the lead in addressing this important issue. On March 27th, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick held a statewide Hunger Summit on the campus of the University of Massachusetts at Boston. Governor Patrick, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary JudyAnn Bigby, and Department of Transitional Assistance Commissioner Julia Kehoe all addressed the over 500 Summit attendees. A panel of experts presented their experiences and breakout sessions were held in the afternoon. It was an inspirational event a full day dedicated to discussions on ways to end hunger in Massachusetts.

We know that the Food Stamp program is one of the most effective ways to combat hunger. Yet, because of years of neglect, Massachusetts has one of the lowest food stamp participation rates in the country. That is starting to change under the leadership of Governor Patrick. Over the past year, Massachusetts has the fastest growing Food Stamp participation rate in the country. But there is still more to do in this area. One of the outcomes of the Summit is to identify best practices within the state and around the country and develop ways to increase Food Stamp participation in Massachusetts.

Along with increasing statewide participation in the federal anti-hunger programs, I۪m also working with hospitals and healthcare professional across the state on ways to treat hunger as a health issue and I۪m working with school districts and colleges to better incorporate our students in the fight against hunger. Why, for example, couldn۪t our doctors and nurses screen patients for hunger? We know that if untreated, lack of food will affect the ability of children to grow and develop properly, will negatively impact their school work, and will ultimately lead to health problems. If treated as a health issue if a prescription for food were provided to a hungry patient like penicillin is given to a child with an ear infection we could change the way hunger affects millions of Americans and change the long-term costs to both the health care system and to our economy overall.

While the federal anti-hunger programs are the cornerstone in the fight against hunger in this country and they desperately need to be expanded and properly funded it۪s critical that we also look beyond these programs and work in non-traditional ways to end hunger. Our federal and state governments face difficult economic times and may not have the necessary resources to dedicate to this issue today. That۪s why we must work to include businesses, healthcare institutions, colleges and universities, and other non-traditional partners in our effort to end hunger. This issue is too important to simply wait for better economic times.

Hunger is a political problem that requires a political solution. As I continue to work to fully fund and properly expand the federal anti-hunger programs and as I work to include non-traditional partners in the fight to end this scourge, I also continue to press people to educate, encourage and if necessary shame their elected officials to become active on this issue. Many don۪t know or don۪t seem to care that there are hungry people in their communities. That۪s part of our challenge and it۪s one of the reasons why the Massachusetts Hunger Summit was successful. And it۪s one of the reasons why we need national efforts like the Spotlight on Poverty to succeed. If elected officials don۪t want to work to end hunger and poverty because it۪s the right thing to do, then maybe public pressure will help convince them that it۪s in their “best interests” to help end hunger. Either way, I believe that we can end the scourge of hunger and every day I dedicate myself to doing so.

Representative James McGovern is currently serving his sixth term in Congress as the U.S. Representative for Massachusetts’ 3rd Congressional District. He is a member of the House Budget Committee, the Vice Chairman of the House Rules Committee, and is co-Chair of the Congressional Hunger Caucus.

« Back to Spotlight Exclusives