Op-Ed: Congress Must Act on Childhood Hunger

When a child goes hungry, it puts them at higher risk of experiencing long-term diseases
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Another summer has come and gone, and Congress still hasn’t passed legislation that would help end summer hunger for America’s kids.

Children across our state were counting on Congress to update legislation that would make it easier to access food during the summer months, the hungriest time of year for many kids in need.

Earlier this year, I traveled with a group of more than 15 chefs and culinary professionals to New Orleans the see work of the nonprofit No Kid Hungry. As we toured schools in high-need areas, I met children who were now getting the healthy meals they need to grow up strong. It hit me: hunger is a matter of potential. These were the future teachers, tech whizzes, entrepreneurs and chefs of tomorrow.

The research is clear. When a child goes hungry, it puts them at a higher risk of experiencing long-term, chronic diseases, such as asthma, type-2 diabetes, and heart disease. When a child goes hungry, it puts them behind their peers in school and makes it less likely that they’ll graduate. When we ignore a child’s hunger, we making it harder for them to make the climb out of poverty and into a more productive adulthood.

As a chef, restaurateur, and entrepreneur, I’ve met Washingtonians and Americans from all walks of life. I am constantly inspired by our growing commitment to healthy food, and desire to make it more accessible for all people. I know the joy that food can bring, and it’s unthinkable to me that, in this land of plenty, there are children going without.

This spirit, though, must reach Congress. During the summer months, kids nationwide rely on the federal summer meals program. For some children, the program is a lifeline, ensuring access to nutritious meals when school is out of session. But for many, the program just doesn’t work; instead, some aspects of the 40-year-old federal policy actually make it harder to reach kids with the food they need.

When initially passed, the legislation was aimed at preventing childhood hunger in urban city centers – where the majority of our country’s poverty existed. However, the face of poverty today looks significantly different than it did 40 years ago. We’ve witnessed poverty stretch across this country; from city epicenters, to the suburbs, while doubling down in rural and remote communities. The current summer meals program does not provide the flexibility needed to feed all of America’s hungry kids.

The statistics confirm the disconnect, and our kids are paying the price. In Washington, one in five kids qualify for free or reduced-price lunch during the school year. Yet, only a fraction – about 11 percent -- of these kids are accessing summer meals.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

A strong, bipartisan bill is currently waiting for the Senate to take action. The legislation would allow individual states to leverage practical solutions in order to address their unique challenges. In Washington, this means children without transportation to a summer meals site could have meals delivered – similar to the “meals on wheels” program. Or, in areas without concentrated population centers, local churches, businesses, and community centers could be utilized for meal pickup locations. And in areas where it made sense, families could get an extra grocery store benefit during the summer months to ensure there was enough food at home.

This is the right bill. And this is the right time to pass it. Hungry kids can’t wait.

In this political environment, rarely does an opportunity arise for Congress to work in unison on a transformative issue. But now is that time. Our kids’ future, and our country’s future, can’t afford another summer to pass by without eating. I strongly urge our lawmakers in Washington to pass this bill.

About Josh: Josh Henderson is the award winning Executive Chef and founder of the Huxley Wallace Collective. In 2014 Josh’s restaurant group was nominated for a James Beard award. Josh received the Star Chefs Rising Star Award in 2009, was named the most influential person of 2010 by Seattle Magazine, and was recognized in Puget Sound Business Journal’s 2012 top 40 under 40.

This article was updated on September 13.

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