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Getting Hungry Children The Healthy Meals They Deserve

Congress has a unique opportunity right now to help combat child hunger.

Right now, Congress is considering the Child Nutrition Act, which is renewed every five years and sets the rules and funding levels for federal nutrition programs, including school lunch and breakfast programs. President Obama, who has set the goal of ending child hunger by 2015, is calling for $1 billion a year in funding for the act over the next 10 years.

That sounds like a lot — but according to Joel Burger, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, it will take $4 billion a year to get healthy, nutritious meals to the 13 million children in the United States living in the more than one in 10 households that experience hunger or the risk of hunger. And unfortunately, the bill that emerged from the Senate Agricultural Committee allocated just $450 million a year to the cause, not even half of what President Obama recommended.

As the House of Representatives drafts its bill, which is expected to be released later this month, we are urging all New Yorkers to sign the City Council’s online petition urging Congress to support President Obama’s call for $1 billion a year in funding. Although it’s not the $4 billion a year NYC Green Schools and groups that fight child hunger support, $1 billion a year would help cover a much-needed increase in reimbursements for healthier meals. That amount would also make it easier for children and families to enroll in meal programs and assist programs that bring food straight from farms into schools.

One in four children in New York City live in poverty, defined as an annual income below $16,600 for a family of three. We all need to rally behind this initiative of Speaker Christine Quinn and the City Council to make sure these children have access to healthy school meals, because in many cases the school breakfast and lunch that they eat are their only meals for the day.

So where is the money to fund the Child Nutrition Act supposed to come from? In our opinion, if the federal government can come up with $700 billion to bail out Wall Street, it can certainly find $4 billion a year to serve our nation’s hungry, undernourished children the healthy meals they need. But here’s a more specific recommendation: In its 2011 budget proposal, the Obama administration proposes limiting farm subsidies to “wealthy farmers” and cutting back government support for crop-insurance companies. Together, these changes would save more than $10 billion over the next 10 years — enough to support the $1 billion a year Obama has recommended to feed hungry children.

Congress needs to make feeding healthy, nutritious meals to our country’s hungry children a top priority. By signing the City Council’s petition, we can let Congress know that it’s what we want out tax dollars to support.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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