Let's Cut Hunger in Half

By Beckmann, David | U.S. Catholic, January 2001 | Go to article overview

Let's Cut Hunger in Half


Beckmann, David, U.S. Catholic


If we only had the will, the U.S. could find a way to overcome the scandal of hunger both at home and abroad. And Christians, says Bread for the World president David Beckmann, could do a lot more to make that happen.

MOST PEOPLE IMAGINE that dramatically reducing world hunger is an impossible dream. But the truth is, the United States could cut hunger in half in this country within two years do our part to cut hunger in half worldwide within two decades. At $6 billion per year, doing both would take less than one third of 1 percent of the federal budget--costing us only pennies a day.

The world has already made progress against hunger. There are fewer undernourished people in the developing world today than there were 25 years ago, despite the population explosion. But more than 800 million people around the world still suffer from chronic hunger, and hunger has increased in Africa. And among the industrialized countries, the United States is the only nation that still puts up with widespread hunger: 31 million people in the United States still struggle to put food on the table.

It is time for the U.S. government to assume a leadership role in overcoming hunger, both at home and worldwide. The persistence of hunger in this country is shocking, particularly in the current extraordinary economy. Many people are getting rich these days, and in general, low-income people also are facing a better job market than in the past.

At the same time, those involved with food pantries and soup kitchens have been providing more and more food to hungry people every year. They're not seeing any decline in hunger. U.S. census data confirm that the number of people struggling with hunger hasn't declined at all over the last several years of prosperity.

How can this be? A booming economy, booming charity, but no decline in hunger?

It's no mystery. Since 1996, millions of people have lost government assistance, notably food stamps. If just the Food Stamp Program were as strong now as it was in 1996, in today's economy we'd have half as many hungry people as we do.

Once the federal government decides to act, it would take only a year or two to cut hunger in half simply by strengthening existing nutrition programs. Needed improvements in the national nutrition programs would cost about $5 billion per year, amounting to $18 for each person in this country about the cost of an entree in a nice restaurant.

The most important of these programs are the Food Stamp Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and the school breakfast and lunch programs.

As the first line of defense against hunger, the Food Stamp Program for low-income people is the primary federal nutrition assistance program, reaching nearly 20 million people. Food stamps help eligible people buy more and nutritionally better food than they could otherwise.

We don't need to create new programs. Simple changes in and providing greater access to existing domestic programs would go a long way toward ending hunger.

ONE OF TEN-HEARD ARGUMENT AGAINST GOVERNMENT assistance is that churches and charities should carry most of the weight of helping hungry and poor people. But churches and charities simply cannot meet all the needs of hungry and poor people in our country.

If the 258,000 religious congregations in this country--Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, or otherwise--were asked to cover the cost of just three existing government programs--welfare for families, disability payments for poor people, and food stamps--every single congregation would need to raise an additional $300,000 every year to help those in need. Our government simply must do its part.

At the 1996 World Food Summit, the nations of the world agreed to cut hunger in half worldwide by 2015. Many developing countries are gradually reducing the extent of undernutrition. …

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