State House and senate Members Form Bi-Partisan Legislative Caucus to Address Pennsylvania's Hunger Issues

by Senator Daylin Leach, (D-17). Sen Leach represents the Delaware County municipalities of Haverford and Radnor and the Montgomery County municipalities of Bridgeport, Conshohocken, East Norriton, Lower Merion, Narberth, Norristown, Plymouth, Upper Merion and West Conshohocken. Pennsylvania is a leader in food and agriculture production, yet many of its residents are struggling to find ways to put food on their tables. The most recent USDA study on hunger found that 10 percent of Pennsylvania families are at risk for hunger – more than 492,000 households across the state. In one third of those households, one or more members also suffer from hunger. Additionally, Department of Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff testified last month that more than 1.2 million Pennsylvanians – nearly 1 in 10 residents – are at risk for food insecurity. What’s the difference between hunger and food insecurity? Not much, if you ask those who are at risk for either. According to The Center for Rural Pennsylvania, food insecurity is defined as “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways,” while hunger is defined as “the uneasy or painful sensation caused by a lack of food. The recurrent and involuntary lack of access to food … a potential, although not necessary, consequence of food insecurity.” The current economic crisis is putting more stress on many families, and times are even tougher for those who already face financial difficulties. When researching the need to implement a Legislative Hunger Caucus, Sen. Mike Brubaker (R-36) found that hunger is at its highest level in Pennsylvania since the USDA began collecting data in 1995. Food insecurity is up by 20 percent since the 1996-1998 survey, and hunger is up by 27 percent. Simply put, a declining economy affects more than just gas prices and housing costs – it can also have a major impact upon the physical and emotional well-being of families. The effects of food insecurity and hunger have social implications as well, as pointed out by the Economic Cost of Domestic Hunger study released in June 2007. The study found food insecurity and hunger costs Pennsylvania more than $3.2 billion annually and $90.4 billion nationally. In his research, Brubaker found that the cost of inaction is something that Pennsylvania simply cannot afford. So in December 2008, Brubaker reached out to his colleagues in the House and Senate, both Republican and Democrat, to develop the first ever Legislative Hunger Caucus. The goal was to decrease the human and economic toll of hunger in the Commonwealth by breaking down the barriers to anti-hunger programs and by developing cooperative programs between government and the private sector to address hunger issues. Sixty-six House and Senate members signed on to participate in the Hunger Caucus, and I am proud to count myself among them. Food insecurity and hunger are often quiet predators, and many of their victims suffer in silence. It is time to bring hunger awareness to the forefront and find ways to help our fellow Pennsylvanians. By working together, I believe the General Assembly, the federal government, non-profit groups, the private sector and the community can find a solution to this devastating problem. It is our hope that the Legislative Hunger Caucus will: * Educate the State Assembly on hunger issues; * Improve Pennsylvania’s food programs through assessment and accountability for state funds provided for anti-hunger and nutrition programs; * Find ways to improve access to food and nutrition among at-risk children; * Increase access to anti-hunger programs for families; * Enact legislation that will effectively enable low-wage families to obtain more of their food from grocery stores by indexing the minimum wage, strengthening earned income tax credits, and improving access to assistance programs; * Permanently establish the Governor’s Inter-Agency Council on Food and Nutrition, create a cabinet-level advisor to the governor and require an annual report on the state of hunger; * Influence and support federal anti-hunger programs if possible; * Encourage the cooperation of government, the public and private sectors to find solutions to hunger and nutrition issues. The Hunger Caucus has already held its first meeting to discuss the scope of food insecurity issues in Pennsylvania, and we plan to move forward with a resolution urging Congress to include additional funding in the stimulus plan for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other programs to fight hunger. The caucus will also hold two meetings per year to examine these issues and receive information on the progress of anti-hunger initiatives. It is my hope that we will be able to make an impact on the state of hunger in Pennsylvania by influencing others to fight for the cause. Hunger is a problem that plagues every town and city of our Commonwealth, and it is time that we put the issue on the table. Then and only then can the fruits of our labor put food on the table. More information on the Legislative Hunger Caucus initiatives and helpful links can be found at http://senatorbrubaker.com/hungercaucus.htm. SIDE BAR: ADDITIONAL INFORMATION*: People who suffer from hunger and/or food insecurity are: * 1.3 times more likely to be hospitalized and require longer in-patient stays; * 1.93 times more likely to need mental health services; * 2.95 times more likely to suffer from activity-limiting health impairments; * 2.9 times more likely to have poorer overall health; * 3.5 times more likely to suffer from depression; * 7 times more likely to suffer from psychosocial dysfunction. Children who suffer from hunger and/or food insecurity are: * 2.07 times more likely to require special education; * 1.6 times more likely to miss days of school; * 1.44 times more likely to repeat a grade; * Nearly twice as likely to be suspended from school. *Information provided by the Economic Cost of Domestic Hunger: Estimated Annual Burden to the United States, June 2007