There’s A Hunger Crisis in America: Congress Must Act

frankie cordoba | Unsplash

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At this moment, millions of Americans are unable to feed themselves and their families. Over 54 million citizens of the richest country in the world are projected to experience the pain of food insecurity this year. The compounding effects of staggering unemployment and school closures due to COVID-19, along with the country’s pre-existing chasmic wealth disparity, have turned our food insecurity problem into a full-blown crisis. But despite its devastating scale, our government has failed to act.

Though the CARES Act, which passed back in March, increased funding for school meals, SNAP food benefits, and community-based food distribution programs, these measures were severely inadequate given the level of need. That was six months ago. Now, with the pandemic still raging and food insecurity still imperiling countless working families, the situation is even more dire. One would expect Congress to produce a robust stimulus package to immediately help the 1 in 5 American households who experienced hunger in April and May, but they have so far refused to do so.

While there’s a broad range of important issues that must be included in these massive packages, it’s downright shameful that our legislators can’t seem to achieve the bare minimum responsibility of preventing millions of their own citizens from starving. The halfhearted measures taken in March were by no means sufficient then, nor are they enough over half a year later. 

The Senate GOP’s fourth stimulus plan, released on Tuesday, allocates nothing to address the food insecurity crisis. On the other hand, the House Democrats’ HEROES Act would raise the maximum SNAP benefits by 15% and give some additional funding to nutrition programs. That’s better, but still nowhere near enough. Whichever figure makes it into the final deal, we know the funding simply won’t be enough to address the scale of this problem. That means our fellow Americans will continue to go hungry for the foreseeable future.

Many folks suggest we should rely on our wealthiest citizens to fill in for the government in addressing the increase in food insecurity. But charity from billionaires is never going to be enough, especially when they refuse to rise to the occasion. Look at Jeff Bezos, who recently became the first person to amass a $200 billion net worth. He’s done next to nothing for his own employees at Amazon amidst its many labor scandals this year, let alone the millions of Americans unable to even buy groceries. His peers aren’t much better. If billionaires were going to start using their money to help fix the country’s problems, surely they would have done so when the U.S. hit the highest unemployment rate since World War II.

So, while charitable giving is admirable and can be effective in acute cases, only the government has the power to enact the large-scale change necessary to successfully confront this catastrophe. And that kind of scale, while challenging, is easily within the government’s capacity to reach. The wealth of billionaires has risen by over $800 billion since the pandemic started – a small tax on their increased net worth over just the last six months, or bringing them back down to where they were in February, would raise billions more than we would need to feed every single person in America. 

The problem is not that we cannot feed our people, it is that our government is actively refusing to do so. We should all be deeply ashamed and angered by our legislators’ callous disregard for our neighbors who are going hungry during a crisis that can only be alleviated by federal action. There is no defense for protecting billionaire profits at the expense of human lives. Hunger shouldn’t be a partisan issue. The American government needs to act swiftly and decisively to end this shameful state of affairs.

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