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Issue Date:  December 7, 2007

-- CNS/Paul Haring

Stephanie Baldwin, a 23-year-old single mother who lives near the poverty line, speaks earlier this year at a Catholic Charities USA news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington where the agency unveiled its plan to cut poverty in America in half by 2020.
Food prices, hunger figures up


While millions of Americans are stocking their kitchens for holiday feasts, many groups are concerned about those who will go hungry in the weeks and months to come. Inflation has made food more expensive, making it harder for families to put food on the table and more difficult for food banks to keep their shelves stocked.

Just last year, Catholic Charities agencies across the country provided services for one out of every 10 people living in poverty.

Although the agencies are proud of the work they do, they would like to see the number of people in need decrease. But that is not going to happen, according to Catholic Charities officials, until the federal government steps up its efforts to help the country’s poor people.

“The federal government must do its part” because “we can’t continue to provide at this level,” said Fr. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, during a Nov. 15 news conference in Washington where a report titled “Poverty in America: Beyond the Numbers” was released.

What the report shows about services provided to the poor is “impressive, but alarming,” said Snyder. He described the current state of poverty in the United States as both “unacceptable” and a “moral crisis.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released its annual study on hunger in America on Nov. 14. The study showed that the number of people living in households with “food insecurity” -- where their normal diets changed due to lack of food or money -- increased from 35.1 million in 2005 to 35.5 million in 2006.

In 2006, local Catholic Charities agencies saw a 12 percent increase in the need for food service programs, and between 2002 and 2006 the number of clients receiving food services -- through soup kitchens, food banks and pantries or with home-delivered meals -- increased by 2.7 million, or nearly 60 percent.

Earlier this year Catholic Charities USA launched a campaign with the goal to cut poverty in America in half by 2020. That would mean that the 37 million Americans now living below the poverty line, who form 12.6 percent of the country’s population, would have to drop to about 6 percent within 13 years.

The campaign stemmed from a policy paper published by Catholic Charities in January called “Poverty in America: A Threat to the Common Good.”

Hunger advocates say the Farm Bill, which is stalled in the Senate, would help fix part of the problem. “We need for Congress to pass a Farm Bill this year,” said Maura Galy, vice president of government relations for America’s Second Harvest, the largest food bank network in the country.

The Farm Bill, which already passed the House, would increase the amount of mandatory funding to the Emergency Food Assistance Program, which aids food banks, from $140 million to $250 million annually, Galy said.

Joining America’s Second Harvest in its call for government intervention, the Bread for the World Institute released its annual hunger report Nov. 19, calling for the United States to “make it a national goal to cut hunger and poverty in half by 2015.”

The report applauded the government’s recent decision to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour by July 2009, but stressed that low-income families need access to affordable health insurance and child care.

“It is not up to government alone to do everything,” the report said. “Employers, families and communities share the responsibility. But government must lead by example, setting policies that promote prosperity for all, not just a few.”

“The holiday season should be a time of joy and celebration, but instead it is often difficult for the hungry, the homeless and the working poor,” said Snyder. “This information from our agencies shows that every season should be a season of giving because the need is still there and it is continuing to grow.”

National Catholic Reporter, December 7, 2007

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