I almost always start off discussions about hunger by reminding everyone that hunger is a political condition.
Too many people think that America’s hunger crisis is the result of some kind of scarcity or lack of food – but nothing could be further from the truth. America is a land of abundance. Billions of dollars’ worth of good goes to waste in this country every single year, yet nearly 40 million Americans, including 1 in 8 children in Massachusetts, do not know where their next meal is going to come from. The truth is that we have the food, the ability, and the means to end hunger in America — what we lack is the political will and moral courage to act.
As Co-Chair of the House Hunger Caucus, I’m working to change that in Congress because I believe food ought to be a fundamental right for everyone.
That’s why I’ve led the fight in Congress to protect funding for the programs which help hungry families get by — and in particular SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
As Chairman of the House Rules Committee, I introduced a rules package which directed the House Office of General Counsel to explore legal options for responding to the Trump Administration’s attempts to limit access to SNAP for hundreds of thousands of hungry Americans.
I’ve introduced a bipartisan bill in the House of Representatives to expand access to healthy school breakfasts for students across America, because far too many students have trouble learning because they come to school hungry.
I authored legislation which created the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program. Now in its third decade, McGovern-Dole aims to provide at least one nutritious meal a day to some of the world’s most vulnerable children in a school setting. It has reduced the incidence of hunger among school-age children. It has increased school enrollments and attendance. It has increased the support of families and communities for education, especially for girls. And importantly, it has showcased the kindness and compassion of the American people for all the world to see.
Because we know hunger and health are intricately linked, I founded the bipartisan Food is Medicine working group in Congress to highlight just how critical healthy meals are for American families. We cannot address hunger and health as two separate issues. I have been fighting for chronically-ill individuals to receive the right meals for their health, and for all families to get healthy food to prevent them from getting sick. The Democratic and Republican leaders of this group have come together to recognize that everyone has a stake in the providing relief for hungry Americans, it’s an issue that must go beyond party politics.
My passion for ending hunger comes from my old boss, Senator George McGovern (to whom I have no relation).
In 1967, he was with his family watching an hour long program on CBS called “Hunger in America.” Senator McGovern later commented about one of its scenes which showed a little boy standing in a school lunch room watching his classmates eat.
When a reporter asked the boy what he was thinking, he lowered his head, dug his toe into the floor and said softly, “I’m ashamed.”
“Why are you ashamed?” asked the reporter.
“Because,” said the boy, “I haven’t got any money.”
George McGovern, sitting in his comfortable Washington home said, “It’s not that little youngster who should be ashamed. I should be ashamed as a U.S. Senator who didn’t even know that children who can’t afford it are not provided a school lunch.”
The documentary led Senator McGovern to work together with Senator Bob Dole of Kansas – a staunch Republican – to successfully improve the reach of anti-hunger programs like SNAP, and make a real dent in our hunger crisis.
Sadly, by the time I started working for Senator McGovern in the 1980s, trickle-down economics had demonized the poor and led to cut after cut to our anti-hunger safety net. And when I got elected in 1996, the situation was so bad that I knew my top priority in Congress was preventing further cuts and bringing back the political will to end hunger in America.
have spent my career in Congress defending the SNAP program from dangerous budget cuts. For example, when the Trump Administration’s 2019 budget attempted to cut SNAP by $17 Billion, leaving 15 million Americans without enough money to put food on the table, I stood up and fought back successfully to prevent budget cuts and ensure that the SNAP program is there when people need it.
For years I have also been giving #EndHungerNow speeches on the floor of Congress. Too often when I raise the issue of hunger in Congress my colleagues look at me like I’m not in touch with reality. Too many of them don’t know how serious an issue hunger is. But we are changing that, and as support grows I am proud to continue fighting for assistance for Americans in need. Together, I believe we will build the political will to win the fight against hunger.