NATIONAL HUNGER AWARENESS DAY
Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, today is National Hunger Awareness Day, and it is an opportunity for all of us in Congress to pledge a greater effort to deal effectively with this festering problem that shames our Nation and has grown even more serious in recent years.
The number of Americans living in hunger, or on the brink of hunger has increased every year during the current administration. It now includes 13 million children-400,000 more than when President Bush took office.
These Americans deserve higher priority by all in Congress. Day in and day out, the needs of millions of Americans living in poverty have been overlooked, and too often their voices have been silenced.
These are real people, struggling every day to get by. They are single mothers serving coffee at the local diner at 5 a.m. and cleaning houses in the afternoon, yet are still unable to afford both shelter and food. They are low-wage workers holding down two jobs, yet still forced to make impossible choices between feeding their family, paying the rent, and obtaining decent medical care. They are children who go to bed hungry every night whose parents can't afford to give them more than a single slim meal a day.
The World Food Summit in 1996 called global attention to this crisis and in response the Clinton administration pledged to begin an effort to cut hunger and food insecurity in half in the United States by 2010. In the boom of the Clinton years, we made progress toward that goal-hunger decreased steadily through 2000. We now have 6 years left to fulfill our commitment, and we must not fail.
The answer is a renewed commitment to reaching that goal. The fastest, most direct way to reduce hunger in the Nation is to improve and expand the current Federal nutrition programs. Sadly, it is difficult to persuade the current administration and the current Congress to fund important child nutrition programs such as the school breakfast and school lunch programs and the summer food program, but numerous groups throughout the Nation are doing their best to make a difference.
Project Bread in Massachusetts helps fund nearly 400 food pantries, soup kitchens, food banks and food salvage programs across the State, and also coordinates local efforts to develop effective solutions to reduce hunger.
Congress can also do better. The Senate Agriculture Committee approved a bipartisan child nutrition bill last month to strengthen and expand nutrition programs, and it deserves to be enacted into law as soon as possible.
A strong job market will also significantly reduce hunger. A major challenge in today's troubled economy is that it has been creating just one job for every three out-of-work Americans. We need an economy that works for everyone, and a job creation plan that enables every American to afford a decent quality of life.
That means jobs that pay a living wage. Right now, we are sending the wrong message to low-income workers. We are telling them that hard work does not pay. We are saying that workers who play by the rules deserve little or even nothing in return. Why can't we all agree that no one who works for a living should have to live in poverty, constantly wondering where the next meal is coming from?
For too many adults of all ages, the fight against hunger is a constant ongoing struggle. It undermines their productivity, their earning power, and even their health. It keeps their children from concentrating and learning in school.
It makes no sense to allow the gap between rich and poor to grow wider. We can not ignore the poorest in our Nation, and all those who need our help the most. National Hunger Awareness Day is our chance to rededicate ourselves in Congress to this cause, and we can't afford to miss it.