Improving access to quality education is the single greatest investment we can make in our country, but for children to succeed in the classroom, we must first make sure their basic needs are met.
Two years ago, I ran for Congress to make a difference in children’s lives and to create hope and opportunity for all Coloradans. That is why I have introduced H.R. 5480, the Ending Childhood Hunger Challenge Act, which would challenge states to end childhood hunger by 2015. This is an ambitious goal, but with the right investments and innovative public-private partnerships, this goal is achievable and can improve the lives of countless children.
Hunger and malnutrition affect people of all ages but are particularly devastating for children. Kids don’t have any say over what kind of family they are born into, and for every child to have the opportunity to succeed, it’s important that their nutritional needs are met. Even short-term episodes of hunger can cause lasting damage to a child’s development, increasing the risk for cognitive, behavioral and physical problems throughout life. While nearly one in four U.S. children (16.7 million) is at risk of hunger, millions of children are eligible for, but not enrolled in, federally funded nutrition programs.
Of the 19.5 million low-income kids growing up in families that can barely afford to put food on the table and receiving free or reduced-price lunch in school each day, less than half (46 percent) receive breakfast and only 11 percent participate in the Summer Food Service Program. Some of these children cannot participate because their community does not provide the program; others lack transportation to programs, or their families are unaware that they are eligible or that a program exists in their community.
To help fight childhood hunger, the Ending Childhood Hunger Challenge Act:
• Encourages states to make progress against childhood hunger by improving program access.
• Creates a new competitive grant program to provide states with the tools and resources they need to carry out comprehensive and innovative plans to end childhood hunger by 2015.
• Supports demonstration projects to improve and provide innovative program delivery models in federal nutrition programs; increases access and participation in federal nutrition programs; and improves the coordination of federal, state and community efforts to combat hunger.
• Promotes projects that employ a comprehensive and innovative strategy to reduce childhood hunger; includes public/private partnership-specific performance goals and annual assessments to measure progress; and requires an independent evaluation of the impact of child food insecurity, to hold states accountable for results.
In addition to the federal policy changes and investments that Congress must undertake in the upcoming reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, we need states to partner with the federal government and the private sector in fighting child hunger by improving coordination. Thanks to compassionate and forward-thinking leadership, Colorado has set the standard for how such innovative partnerships can have a major impact on children’s lives.
The Campaign to End Childhood Hunger is a statewide, public-private coalition working to eliminate child hunger in Colorado. Launched by Gov. Bill Ritter, Share Our Strength and Hunger Free Colorado, the campaign is working to ensure that all children have nutritious food at home, at school and in their communities by increasing children’s access to two federally funded child nutrition programs: the School Breakfast Program and the Summer Food Service Program. The campaign works with schools and community members to implement breakfast-serving methods that increase access, such as serving breakfast in the classroom and offering it free to all students, to meet the goal of increasing participation by 15,000 children this year. Similarly, the campaign is working with schools to help start summer food programs, launch a summer food outreach strategy that will inform families where healthy food is available, and assist existing programs to increase participation in the Summer Food Program by 10,000 children this summer.
I have great hopes that we can build upon the successes we’ve seen here in Colorado and bring equally innovative and effective partnerships across the nation to help reach our goal of ending childhood hunger in the United States. Let’s end childhood hunger.