Do America’s Hungry Children Matter?

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US President Barack Obama delivers the State of The Union address

US President Barack Obama delivers the State of The Union address

In President Obama’s State of the Union address last night he asserted that American children really do matter to our nation’s top politicians. “I want our actions to tell every child, in every neighborhood — your life matters, and we are as committed to improving your life chances as we are for our own kids.”

2015 was supposed to be the year when America ended its child hunger crisis. That was the promise then-president-elect Barack Obama made during his first campaign in 2008.

At that time some 12.4 million children lived in homes that self-reported as food insecure — in other words, they couldn’t afford enough food for an active and healthy life. Today there are 15.8 million such children.

At the start of 2009, the Obama administration began to look into what it would take to end child hunger. Officials from the United States Department of Agriculture were put to the test as they hosted listening sessions in each region to hear from experts and people who knew hunger firsthand.

Tangela Fedrick, a mother of two young children and member of Witnesses to Hunger, testified at one of those hearings. “I am one of the millions families that doesn’t have enough money for food, so I count” she said. “But I am not just a number. My children and I are human beings.”

When our dispossessed brothers and sisters must demand to be considered human, and remind the powers that be that they matter, we, as a society, have failed miserably. This should haunt each and every one of us.

The hashtag #blacklivesmatter, created in 2012 after Trayvon Martin’s murder, and widely circulated following the deaths of black people by police since then, shows that our country has profound problems that go far beyond racism, bigotry and classism. We have trouble with our own humanity and belonging.

While Obama’s proposals aimed at improving the plight of America’s impoverished children are excellent — an increase in the child tax credit, improved wages and paid family leave — it is absolutely appalling that he must encourage Congress to show children that they matter.

The Republican leadership’s reaction to Obama’s proposals was predictably dismissive. Just after the State of the Union address, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “Hopefully that’s just rhetoric. He knows we’re not likely to pass these kinds of measures. We’ll still look for things that we can actually agree on.”

Can’t we all agree that policies aimed at helping impoverished children is the right thing to do? Clearly, ideas of ending child hunger faded fast as our economy tanked. But in the midst of rampant income inequality, President Obama did not use his State of the Union to even mention poverty nor the poor, insisting that the state of our union is strong. We are not strong when almost one in five of America’s kids live in households without enough money for nutritious food.

What about the promise he made to America’s children — that 2015 would be the year they would no longer experience hunger?

The views expressed in this post are the author’s alone, and presented here to offer a variety of perspectives to our readers.

Mariana Chilton is an associate professor of public health at Drexel University and director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities. She is a founder of Witnesses to Hunger, an advocacy program aimed at increasing women’s participation in the national conversation on hunger and poverty.
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