Sharing my two most recent posts on HuffPost about resetting domestic priorities to include an end to childhood hunger:
While We’re Waiting for the Peace Dividend, Let’s Use the Children’s Dividend
Posted: 06/29/11 09:20 AM ET
The prospect of reduced military expenditures in Afghanistan has already set off speculation about the purposes to which a so-called “peace dividend” might be employed to support domestic needs. A robust debate about resetting domestic priorities would be welcome. But there’s another kind of budgetary dividend already at hand and we’ve been missing the opportunity to take advantage of it.
I’m talking about what might be called the Children’s’ Dividend — the more than a billion dollars left untapped each year from the nearly $100 billion allocated for childhood hunger and nutrition programs, because of the unacceptable gap in the number of poor children who are eligible but not enrolled or participating.
More than 20 million children in America get a free or reduced price school lunch but only 9 million get breakfast and only 3 million get summer meals when the schools are closed. If we increased the national average of 16 percent for summer participation to 40 percent, still well under half, we would drive $313 million to the states in reimbursements for milk purchased from local dairies, bread bought from local bakeries, and other expenses. The same holds true for the Women, Infants and Children Supplemental Nutrition program and SNAP.
Although the federal government pays for this critical need, through programs that have a long record of bipartisan support and effectiveness, Governors and Mayors hold the keys to the lockbox where this Children’s’ Dividend resides. They have the power to eliminate barriers to participation and, working through public-private partnerships, increase awareness of and participation in these programs. But even many policy makers and elected officials are unaware that these funds are available — a testament to how voiceless are the potential beneficiaries: low income children who don’t belong to organizations, make political contributions, or have lobbyists. That’s the real reason a Children’s Dividend exists!
Before we engage in a predictably partisan and divisive battle over how to use any future peace dividend, we ought, for the sake of our children, use the dividend we already have so that we can end childhood hunger, and in so doing improve health and education outcomes, and restore America’s competitiveness in the world.
The National Conversation About New Priorities: Including Those Most Vulnerable
Posted: 06/26/11 05:39 PM ET
The nation’s priorities are finally beginning to shift, as President Obama acknowledged last week in his televised address about reducing troops in Afghanistan: “America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home.”
That same week the Conference of Mayors approved a resolution calling for an early end to our military role in Afghanistan and Iraq and asking Congress to redirect the $126 billion dollars spent annually there toward “urgent domestic needs,” especially jobs. It was the group’s first advocacy about the balance between foreign and domestic priorities since the Vietnam War.
Along with recent national public opinion polls, or perhaps because of them, these developments signal a distinct and long overdue change in the national conversation, one that began without the president’s leadership but which he was savvy enough to recognize and at least give lip service, if not embrace.
The question now is what, beyond job creation, will make it onto the new list of domestic priorities? Will special interests see a new pool of billions of dollars in play and succeed in dominating the debate? Will politicians compete only to see who can appeal the most to the politically influential middle class? Will we let the greatest income gap between rich and poor in history continue to widen further? Or will those most vulnerable and voiceless — the record number of Americans who are hungry and living in poverty — finally be acknowledged and included in the national conversation?
This may be the best opportunity in decades to lay a moral foundation at the base of our public policy choices. Where to begin?
Notwithstanding the likelihood of many competing interests, there is one issue that politicians of all stripes should be able to agree upon because its redress is inextricably linked to solving so many other issues of import — and that is the issue of childhood hunger. Aside from being unnecessary and just plain wrong in a nation of such abundance, allowing children to go hungry undermines our ability to achieve vital national goals.
Childhood hunger is a health care issue because the long-lasting consequences of hunger and poor nutrition manifest themselves in maternal and child health, diabetes, obesity, hyper-tension and an enormously expensive array of other health care costs borne by society at large.
Childhood hunger is also an education issue. Large majorities of public school teachers assert that hunger is an obstacle to kids in their classrooms learning at the level they should.
That means childhood hunger also directly impacts our ability to compete in the global economy and ensure our economic security.
And of course childhood hunger, which impacts those who are the most vulnerable to and least responsible for the suffering they endure, is unquestionably a moral issue.
Ironically, childhood hunger is probably the issue that is least expensive for our nation to address, especially because the resources to do so already exist in the form of programs with long track records of effectiveness and bipartisan support: school lunch and school breakfast, summer meals, SNAP (food stamps) and the Women, Infant and Children’s Supplemental Nutrition program. The problem is that millions of kids who are eligible are not accessing and participating in these programs because of lack of awareness or because communities have not made it easy for them to do so. That’s why simply elevating attention to the problem and the existing solutions could lead to powerful change. Some governors — Democrats O’Malley in Maryland and Beebe in Arkansas, and Republican McDonnell in Virginia — have begun to do just that and the results have been dramatic. A national focus could do even more.
The window that now exists to reshape our nation’s agenda and priorities will not remain open long. There will be many voices competing to be heard. But if we are to reclaim moral leadership, and get to some of the root causes undermining education, health care and economic growth, then our national agenda must also reflect the needs and the rights of those whose voices are not heard. There’s no better place to begin than by ending childhood hunger and addressing poverty in a more serious way than we’ve done in at least half a century.