By Representatives Rosa DeLauro and Representatives George Miller
Whoever said there is no such thing as free lunch never worked on Capitol Hill.
On any given day, members of Congress can walk out of their offices to find delicious offerings at the latest Capitol Hill reception. One day, the American Meat Institute is handing out free hot dogs; the next, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has free samples of its veggie dog. It seems like around every corner waits a free buffet or a cupcake or two for dessert.
Members never have to go hungry because a flood of special interest groups is always ready to feed them. But sadly, outside Congress, there is an equal certainty that children will wake up hungry; families will struggle to put food on the table, and seniors will skip multiple meals because they can't afford to eat.
There are no perks like free ice cream day for the child in poverty, struggling to survive -- let alone thrive.
That's why the proposed dramatic cuts in programs that help poor children and families get food seem immoral. The House Agriculture Committee last month passed the Farm Bill -- legislation approved every five years that, among other things, provides support to families in need of nutrition aid. Unfortunately, House Republicans are insisting that millions of American children and families pay the price for finally moving this bill.
The House gutted $16.5 billion from food stamps -- our nation's most important anti-hunger program, which gives low-income families modest aid during tough times. These cuts mean up to three million low-income Americans -- largely families with children -- can't buy food.
These cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program also eliminate free school meals for 280,000 children. School breakfast or lunch is too often the only complete meal a child can eat all day. We expect our students to compete in a global economy. We expect them to come to school ready to learn -- but we conveniently ignore the facts.
Poor nutrition negatively affects students' academic achievement. Children who are hungry often miss more days at school and, when they do attend, they may have more trouble concentrating. They often have lower test scores.
Right now, 46 million Americans live in poverty, and more than 32 million adults and 16 million children live in food-insecure households. These families struggle every day to make ends meet -- particularly as food prices continue to rise. As more and more families are getting by on less and less, food stamps help make groceries more affordable, so parents have more money to pay the rent, gas up their car and meet their children's other basic needs. Food stamps kept 4 million Americans over the poverty line in 2010, including 2 million children, and lifted another 1.3 million kids above 50 percent of the poverty line. More than any other benefit program.
House Republicans recently proposed a tax plan giving an average of $160,000 in tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires but decimated this funding to help low-income and middle class families. This Republican Congress is more than willing to help someone like Paris Hilton buy a new Louis Vuitton bag for thousands of dollars, but considers an average monthly SNAP benefit for food of $133.85 per person or $4.46 a day is too much.
Efforts to reach agreement between the House and Senate farm bills do not mean hungry children are out of the woods. The Senate version cuts $4.5 billion from food stamps.
Congress should not cut food assistance for families struggling against hunger to finance more tax breaks for millionaires. Balancing the budget on the backs of hungry children and families, while continuing to support tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, is a recipe for locking millions of Americans out of the American Dream.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) is the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies on the Appropriations Committee and also on the Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) is the ranking member of the House Education and Workforce Committee.