DECATUR, IL–(ENEWSPF)–June 3, 2011. As the economy in Decatur continues to struggle, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) visited a local Summer Food Service Program site to discuss hunger and the rising demand for food pantry services with area food bank and food pantry representatives.
“The struggling economy has put a strain on family budgets throughout Illinois,” Durbin, a co-chair of the Senate Hunger Caucus, said. “Formerly middle-class families who have had a rough few years are increasingly turning to their local food pantry to put meals on the table. And during the summer months, many families face an extra challenge: providing their children with healthy meals and snacks throughout the day. Hunger doesn’t take a vacation. For the 500,000 Illinois children whose families must cope with food insecurity, summer vacation can mean months without school lunches and breakfasts.”
Increased food insecurity during the summer is a major problem for children who rely on free or reduced lunches provided through school, Durbin said, noting that Decatur has the second largest Summer Food Service Program in Illinois.
In order to ensure that kids have access to proper nutrition during summer break, the Summer Food Service Program offers free, nourishing meals and snacks to children in need. The program is operated by local park districts, schools, community centers, or organizations where meals are offered as part of a summer recreational or educational program. In Illinois, the Summer Food Service Program is administered through the State Board of Education.
“It is not too late for families who qualify to get their kids involved in the Summer Food Service Program. Families who want to learn more should contact the Illinois State Board of Education’s Nutrition Programs and Support Services at 1-800-545-7892 for assistance,” Durbin said.
In 2009, nearly 15 percent of households in Illinois experienced hunger. Illinois food banks have seen a 50 percent increase in requests for food assistance over the past two years. The Central Illinois Foodbank has distributed 71 percent more food over the last two years, including an increase of 101 percent to people served in Macon County.
The Central Illinois Foodbank provides emergency food for an estimated 105,600 different people annually, 37 percent of whom are children. According to the Central Illinois Foodbank, more than a third of families receiving assistance report having to choose between paying for food and paying their rent or mortgage; a quarter report having to choose between paying for food and paying for medicine or medical care.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2008, more than one out of every six Americans—49.1 million people—went hungry, struggled to put food on the table, or skipped meals to ensure groceries lasted through the week. Of these, 16.7 million were children—almost one out of every five children in the US. The level of hunger is now the highest since the government began tracking food insecurity in 1995.
Durbin noted that two key anti-hunger programs are facing cuts in proposed fiscal year 2012 budget plans.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as Food Stamps, is the nation’s most important anti-hunger program, serving more than 44 million low-income Americans. The budget approved by Republicans in the House of Representatives would cut SNAP funding by $127 billion—almost 20 percent—over the next 10 years. The proposal would eliminate benefits for millions of low-income families by restricting eligibility and converting SNAP to a block grant, limiting the program’s flexibility to handle increased needs during an economic downturn.
The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) provides nutritious food to low-income Americans though food banks, pantries, and soup kitchens. TEFAP provides 25 percent of food in Feeding America food banks. The House Agriculture Appropriations fiscal year 2012 bill would cut TEFAP’s $250 million budget to purchase food commodities by $51 million.
“We need to reduce our nation’s deficit responsibly. We should not be slashing vital anti-hunger programs for over 44 million American families at the time they’re relying on those programs most,” Durbin said.
Durbin has previously authored legislation that has been signed into law such as the Hunger Free Communities Act, which has increased federal resources available to locally-based organizations working to end hunger in their communities. The Hunger Free Communities Act includes a first-of-its-kind anti-hunger grant program that encourages communities to work together to identify and address hunger locally. The legislation was included in the last version of the Farm Bill.