Tuesday, March 01, 2011

More than food pantries. . .

This column appeared in The Dallas Morning News yesterday.  David Beckmann, co-author, will deliver the keynote address at CitySquare's 16th Annual Urban Ministries Prayer Breakfast this Thursday, March 3 beginning at 7 a.m. at Dallas Market Hall

Beckmann and James: We cannot ‘food bank’ our way out of hunger

Poverty and hunger are stark realities for many Texans. At 17 percent, the Texas poverty rate is the ninth-highest of the 50 states. The poverty rate among children is even higher, at 24 percent. Both Hispanics and African-Americans have poverty rates above the state average. Of the 15 U.S. cities with the highest poverty rates, six are in Texas.

Worse, Texas ranks second in households that struggle to put food on the table. There are strong links between hunger and poverty. The Texas food insecurity rates closely mirror the Texas poverty rates; 17 percent of Texans and 24 percent of Texan children live in households that can’t always afford groceries.

The poverty rate in Dallas is higher than the state average. Child poverty is significantly higher than the state average — 35.4 percent of children in Dallas are poor. The poverty rates of Hispanics and African-Americans in Dallas are also higher than the Texas average for each group — and almost double the overall poverty rate for the state.

Fortunately, we believe it is within our power to help ease the effects of the recession on people in need and to set the stage for rapid progress once our economy rebounds. Many of us help hungry people by contributing to food banks and charities. While this is important, all of the food collected by charities combined is only about 6 percent of what is provided by government nutrition programs.

We must continue to invest in U.S. safety-net programs, which cost just 14 cents of every federal dollar. Many families cannot afford cuts to free school breakfast and lunch, unemployment insurance, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, and tax credits for working poor families.

Cutting these anti-hunger and anti-poverty programs would be damaging to people in need and to our still-fragile economy. Without these public efforts, Texas will sink even further below the national averages for numbers of citizens and their children living in poverty. We cannot allow this to happen to our low-income neighbors.

Spending on programs such as SNAP provides an immediate stimulus to local economies. Studies show that low-income families spend their SNAP benefits immediately — spurring greater economic activity in their communities. Every dollar in SNAP benefits generates almost $1.75 in economic stimulus — so the 11 percent of all Texans who receive SNAP benefits are significantly boosting local communities.

Americans are not the only people suffering. The world has almost one billion chronically hungry people. U.S. foreign assistance can do a great deal to give hungry and poor people the tools and opportunities they need to improve the lives of their families.

We will speak on these issues at the annual CitySquare (formerly Central Dallas Ministries) Prayer Breakfast in Dallas Thursday. What can you do? Urge members of Congress to not balance the budget on the backs of hungry and poor people at home and abroad. Encourage them to press forward instead with reforms to make foreign assistance more effective in reducing poverty. With the stroke of a pen, decisions are made that can address the fundamental reasons people are hungry and poor — in Texas, in the United States, and around the world. We believe God is moving in our time to overcome hunger and poverty, and God is calling us to change the politics of hunger.

David Beckmann is president of Bread for the World, Bread for the World Institute and the Alliance to End Hunger; his e-mail address is david@bread.org . Larry James is president and CEO of CitySquare; his e-mail address is ljames@citysq.org.

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