Capitol Update from Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr.

June 22, 2005

Fighting Hunger at All Levels

The federal government is considering scaling back food assistance for the needy, and if such a proposal is approved, thousands will suffer needlessly throughout the country.

Data from the Health and Human Services Commission indicate that in Cameron and Hidalgo counties, because of stringent salary and asset limits, almost 300,000 residents utilize food stamps on a monthly basis.

For these residents, food stamps and other federal programs such as the Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC) are essential for keeping their families fed and healthy. Establishments for the needy, like the Good Neighbor Settlement House in Brownsville and Loaves and Fishes in Harlingen play a vital role in the community by providing food on a daily basis for hundreds of other county residents who lack the resources to purchase enough food to sustain them.

Knowing what we do about the importance of adequate nutrition as it relates to overall health, I am deeply concerned about proposals at the federal level to scale back food aid.

Since the 1990s, the United States has made incredible progress in the area of welfare reform, but cutting food assistance exceeds reasonable boundaries. I call on the U.S. Congress to sustain current funding levels for the WIC program, to reject the President's proposal to reduce the maximum limit states may use to qualify residents for food assistance, and to adequately fund the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) so that this agency is not forced to reduce spending on the Food Stamp Program.

Food assistance should be one of the last items Congress reduces as a means of cutting costs. Reducing food aid will deplete local economies across the country, negatively impact farmers, create excess demand at local food banks and pantries, and will subject working American families and elderly populations on very low incomes to hunger and malnutrition.

Based on a national U.S. Census Bureau survey of households representative of the U.S. population, the USDA reports that in 2003, 11.2 percent of all U.S. households were "food insecure" because of a lack of resources. Cutbacks in food assistance will only add to this number and undermine efforts to reduce hunger.

For these reasons, legislators and other community leaders must represent and care about the interests of marginalized populations, especially children and the elderly who are most likely to suffer the most from deprivation of essential vitamins and nutrients.

For the past six years, I've addressed nutrition issues for our region and state. I've authored legislation and headed a Joint Interim Committee on Nutrition and Health among Public School Children. The enormous amount of information and research depicting the serious problem of poor nutrition and bad food-choice habits among children is alarming.

Additionally, obesity is primarily a problem occurring in families where incomes are low and accessibility to healthier, low-fat foods is more limited because of cost and sometimes because of location--proximity to regular grocery stores. One of these vital needs is access to basic nutrition. For thousands of Texans, access to adequate nourishment is a daily struggle.

The nutrition issue is near and dear to my heart because I feel strongly about what should be our commitment to eliminate senseless hunger and the many ills bad nutrition wreaks on a person, whether they be overweight, underweight, or just malnourished. Hunger compounds poor nutritional habits.

It should also be the priority of every policymaker to ensure that the basic needs of the population they serve are met as fully as possible. In a resource-rich country like the United States, I believe the existence of hunger and malnutrition is inexcusable.

I urge constituents to become active in the fight against hunger at the local level. In Cameron County, the Good Neighborhood Settlement House and Loaves and Fishes both accept hot meals that feed residents three meals a day, seven days a week. Internet users can also visit the McAllen-based Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley online and participate in virtual food drives that allow them to donate specific items that the Bank needs the most.

Preventing hunger and malnutrition should be first and foremost on the agendas of the President, legislators, local officials and even private citizens to help ensure a healthy population. As a nation and as a state, we must make difficult budgetary decisions, but reducing levels of food assistance will hurt families and the economy, and should never be considered an option for lowering spending. In fact, fighting hunger in America should become a national priority. As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact my office in Austin at 512-463-0127, Brownsville at 956-548-0227 or Weslaco at 956-968-9927. Also, visit my website at the Official Texas Senate Home Page, http://www.senate.state.tx.us/.

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