Monday, February 22, 2010

Sharing our Strategy With the Nation's Governors

We had a great opportunity this morning to advance our strategy to end childhood hunger by presenting to a private session of Governors from about a dozen states including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Iowa, Colorado and Maryland. They were in town for the annual meetings of the National Governors Association (and the Democratic Governors Association) and were headed over to the White House to see President Obama just after the session in which I presented. So the timing was good – especially because our message was that while the President has set a bold goal for ending childhood hunger by 2015, it will require bold action on the part of Governors, working with partners like Share Our Strength, to achieve it.

Governor Martin O’Malley told his colleagues about the progress that has been made in Maryland and Governor Bill Ritter described what a great deal our new partnership has been for Colorado. Following his comments the chair of the Democratic Governors Association, Delaware’s Jack Markell said “I think we can all agree that this is a no brainer.” The aides to several Governors came up after and asked if we can bring our strategy to their state.

A brief summary of my comments to the governors follows below:

Thank all of you for this opportunity here this morning. I have enormous admiration for your leadership at a time when our nation needs its governors to lead as never before. I don’t have to tell you that that these are extraordinarily difficult times politically, times that require courage and risk and fortitude

Though we may face many challenges that we are not easy to solve , such as unemployment, health care, climate change, etc, there is an important issue that is solvable and it is particularly dependent on you. That is ending childhood hunger in the United States.

As you know, one in four children in the U.S. are now on food stamps, for the first time in our history. A survey that Share Our Strength commissioned from Celinda Lake shows that 62 % of public school teachers identify hunger as a problem in the classroom and are using their own money on a regular basis to buy food for those kids.

But kids in the U.S. aren’t hungry because we lack food, we know that is not the case, and they are not hungry because of a lack of food and nutrition programs. That is not the case either. They are hungry because they lack access to those programs. And every time we increase access- to school breakfast, to summer feeding, to SNAP / food stamps, we increase the flow of already authorized and appropriated federal dollars into your state. Even increasing school breakfast participation from the 45% rate it is at today to 60% would bring $561 million into the states. More than a billion dollars are at stake when you consider all of the food and nutrition programs for which kids are eligible but not enrolled.

We have been working closely with Governor O’Malley and more recently with Governor Ritter to increase the participation in school breakfast, summer feeding, and the SNAP / food stamp program. When I told Governor O’Malley that we had an excellent meeting with Governor Ritter and that Colorado should be able to draw down another $70 million he e-mailed and asked “doesn’t this beg the intellectual question as to why we are not already doing this?”
It is exactly the right question. And the answer is that these kids don’t have representation, lobbyists or associations. They need our leadership. And this is not only right for our kids, it is also a way of showing those skeptical of government, often for good reason, that there are programs that work.

President Obama has advanced this cause by setting the bold goal of ending childhood hunger by 2015, but his Administration’s strategy for achieving that is not as bold as the goal itself. That frankly will depend on you. If you are tired of cutting programs you ran for office to support, if you are tired of budget realities that have forced you to make the most vulnerable and voiceless in your state even more vulnerable and marginalized, then we at Share Our Strength, along with many partners including Feeding America and the Food Research and Action Center, are eager to help.

The poet Nordahl Grieg once said: Rich is the earth, noble is man, where there is hunger or need there is betrayal. We know in our hearts and our bones that there is no excuse for hunger in America. Rich is the earth and there is nobility in those of you who have chosen to serve your state and country. We don’t need to betray children by leaving them hungry. That’s why we look forward to partnering in your state to increase participation in programs that have bipartisan support and that we know will work.

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