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Leigh Anne Zappin: Anti-hunger programs should be protected

Aug. 14, 2011 @ 10:42 PM

Food banks are highly efficient and resourceful public-private partnerships that provide food to over 37 million Americans across the nation who are hungry. However, over the last two years, we as a local food bank and a national network, have been hit by a vicious one-two punch of unprecedented high demand and a significant decrease in available food resources.

Huntington Area Food Bank has seen more than a 20 percent increase in the number of clients served since 2009 and as a result, the shelves at our food pantries may soon become bare.

Recently, Washington averted a potentially disastrous government default by coming to terms to raise the nation's debt ceiling. But while many breathed a sigh of relief, we just took a deep breath. That's because the fight to protect hungry families is just beginning. Though the nation averted a potential disaster, the crisis facing struggling families and the food banks that serve them continues. Addressing the debt ceiling was just the first of many high hurdles we are depending on our elected leaders to clear, as they must now make critical decisions about which programs to fund -- and which to cut.

With all discretionary programs on the table for cuts, any cuts made to anti-hunger programs will put further pressure on the food supply at our food bank when demand continues at an all-time high. Additionally cutting other low-income programs would further increase demand for food assistance when we are already serving a lot more with a lot less.

Food is a basic human need. Hungry children cannot learn in school and encounter developmental difficulties, parents are less productive at work and more stressed at home, and our elderly are more likely to get sick and frail. This is a struggle shared by over 50 million Americans who do not have consistent access to food, including the 253,580 individuals who experience food insecurity right here in West Virginia.

While the social cost of hunger is high, it is only eclipsed by the economic cost of hunger, the effects of which lead to higher costs in healthcare, education, eldercare, and workforce readiness. In this way, anti-hunger programs are more than just a safety net for individual families. They are investments in our communities.

Cutting programs like The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which provides high quality, nutritious food for food banks to distribute, would trade meager savings today for higher overall costs in the future. This would be pennywise and pound foolish.

As Congress and the administration continue to make difficult decisions about our national priorities, it is imperative that they do not take food away from the millions of hungry Americans. With unemployment still stubbornly high, investing in domestic hunger programs is not only the right thing to do but also makes fiscal sense, as these programs allow us to take care of our most vulnerable, build our communities and lead to savings in healthcare and education down the road.

Leigh Anne Zappin is executive director of the Huntington Area Food Bank.

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