Hunger is on the attack, even in the United States. The Department of Agriculture reports that 49 million Americans struggle to get food. Worldwide, nearly one billion people suffer from hunger, and child malnutrition is rampant in East Africa, Afghanistan, Yemen and many other areas.
President Obama and the Congress, as they grapple with the federal budget, also need to protect the hungry. They can take a page from President John F. Kennedy's playbook for his first days in office, back in 1961.
Kennedy's first act as President was to order food aid to hungry people in the U.S., particularly in West Virginia. Unemployment was high, and it was critical that food support be given during a time of great strain on the people there. Kennedy's plan involved distribution of food stamps to the needy. And it worked.
Kennedy in 1962 reported on this aid, stating, "Low income families are receiving better diets...Retail food store sales in these areas increased 8 percent in dollar volume. There have been savings in distribution costs and benefits to the economy of the food stamp communities."
Also the Kennedy administration worked on improvements to the national school feeding program. This is a vital safety net to ensure that children in impoverished families do not suffer from lack of nutrition.
Today, protection is needed for families all across America where unemployment rates are skyrocketing. Demand for food banks is growing. Many Americans face a struggle to afford food. But support from the federal government is dwindling, with programs like the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) facing reduced funding levels. Emergency food banks across the country count on TEFAP for supplies.
Vicki Escarra of Feeding America says, "As Congress and the Administration look for ways to reduce the federal deficit, it is more critical than ever to protect funding for nutrition programs that provide the first line of defense against hunger in America.”
President Obama and the Congress should expand food aid for hungry Americans. Programs like TEFAP, food stamps, and the national school lunch program, including summer feeding, need to be emphasized. Like JFK on his first days, they need to do what is right for the American people.
But also like JFK, Obama and Congress have to think globally and consider our national security interests abroad. Fighting hunger overseas is an essential part of our foreign policy. JFK realized this. His predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower, knew this when he signed Public Law 480, which became known as Food for Peace. This program is the primary tool for the U.S. in fighting hunger abroad.