Statement Hearing On Promoting Health, Preventing Chronic Disease And Fighting Hunger, Assessment Of USDA Food Assistance And Child Nutrition Programs In The Economic Downturn December 8, 2008

I would like to thank the Chairman and Ranking Member for holding this hearing today so that we can all have the chance to learn more about how well equipped the Department of Agriculture is to assist the American people in preventing chronic disease and fighting hunger during our current economic crisis.


I would also like to welcome back my fellow committee members and I hope everyone, especially our friends at USDA, is prepared to work hard to improve these programs in order to meet the growing demand across the country.


We have entered one of the most severe periods of economic turmoil in modern history.  And when times are tough, more Americans go hungry.  We know from experience that hunger will worsen during this recession before it gets better.  We see that happening right now in our communities.  Hunger is a leading indicator and an enduring indicator during tough economic times, but hunger is more than just statistics.  Hunger is deeply personal and takes its toll one child and one family at a time.


Right now in my home state of Vermont, nearly 1 in 10 people are “hunger insecure,” as the statistics have it.  These are people who are running out of food, reducing the quality of food their family eats, feeding their children unbalanced diets, and skipping meals altogether so they can afford to feed their children.  With the dramatic rise in both food prices and unemployment, the current economy severely affects food security in families.  When people lose their jobs and income or when wages go down, they show up at food stamp offices and also at food shelves.  Right now our food shelves are strained far beyond their resources, and there is a limit to how many people they can serve.  Our food pantries are having a hard time filling the shelves at a time when we need them the most.  We all must to do more to feed those in need, and the Agriculture Department needs to be a vigorous part of that partnership.


It is important to note that hunger is not the only thing we must fight.  Hunger is just one of the problems; poor-quality diets, nutrient deficiencies, obesity, developmental delays, increases in aggression, depression, and hyperactive behavior -- along with poor academic performance -- are all problems facing children living in hunger insecure homes. 


While there are many issues that are important to me, and I believe to the rest of the Committee, as we are facing very difficult economic times I will limit my remarks to one of the most pressing issues facing us today.  There continues to be a great deal of discussion on what should be included in the next economic stimulus package.  I believe that Congress and the Administration must continue to act to provide prompt, sensible and effective stimulus measures that will complement the work done to date by Congress and the Treasury Department.


We must focus on sound steps that will give us the biggest bang for the buck and will flow immediately into the economy in order to stimulate the economy where and when it is most needed.  I continue to believe that one of the proven ways to stimulate the economy for those in need is through the Food Stamp program; efforts must begin immediately for an increase in food stamp benefits.  Another would be temporarily increase federal reimbursement for school meals.  Finally I believe we must look at ways to provide more resources for our Food Banks around the country.


I add my welcome to our panel today and thank each of you for the work you do on this vital issue.  This country is facing some serious challenges when it comes to fighting hunger and preventing chronic disease.


Mr. Chairman, thank you again for holding this hearing.  I look forward to hearing from the witnesses on these and other issues.


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