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Let our leaders know that every child deserves to eat well.

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Beverlee Hughes

"Help Feed Our Future": It's a roadside message you'll see often this summer as you travel throughout Oregon, thanks to a generous donor who wants to help the state's food banks, including FOOD for Lane County.

The billboards loudly proclaim a message to which Congress should be listening.

Our elected officials in Washington, D.C., are reviewing federal child nutrition programs, which include the school breakfast and lunch, summer food, and Women, Infant & Children, or WIC, programs.

Critical decisions affecting thousands of children in Oregon and elsewhere need to be made before Sept. 30, when funding expires for these programs.

For more than 60 years, these programs have played a vital role in providing nutritious food for low-income children here in Oregon and across the nation. The choices Congress makes in the next few weeks will shape child nutrition programs in America for the next five years, and will determine whether we can meet President Obama's goal of ending childhood hunger by 2015.

Making sure our children have access to nutritious food now is an investment in our future.

Good nutrition makes a difference in children's emotional, physical and mental development. Several studies have shown that the adverse effects of hunger on children can be permanent and largely irreversible - stunted growth, poor brain development and delayed motor skills, as well as poor performance in school.

Oregon is now the second- hungriest state in the nation. Our children are affected. Congress can act now to make a difference in their lives.

For instance, summer and after-school food programs currently can be offered only in school areas where at least 50 percent of the children qualify for free or reduced-price school meals.

Every weekday, FOOD for Lane County is preparing 3,000 hot lunches for distribution at 64 summer food sites, but is reaching only a third of the children who normally use the school lunch program.

If the site eligibility requirement is reduced to the proposed 40 percent instead of the current 50 percent, more sites can be opened to serve more children. There are hungry children in every school area, not just those with high numbers of low-income families.

An increase in the meal reimbursement rate also is being requested. It would help program operators buy foods with a higher nutritional value than they can with the current rate.

As many nutritionists will tell you, it costs money to eat well. Our children deserve to eat well.

Bills introduced in both the House and the Senate are important steps toward the goal of ending childhood hunger, but neither goes far enough to reach many low-income children. And both bills fall short of the $10 billion that will be needed to help boost children's health and learning.

Oregon has several key members of Congress who can help find the money needed to make sure these programs are fully funded.

Sen. Ron Wyden serves on the Senate Finance Committee and can help find additional investments. Rep. David Wu is on the House committee that has jurisdiction over its bill, and Rep. Kurt Schrader and Rep. Earl Blumenaur are on committees that can find and ensure adequate funding.

Federal child nutrition programs brought more than $222 million of federal funds into Oregon's economy during the 2009 federal fiscal year. With unemployment rates still in excess of 10 percent and state budgets being cut, it is imperative to make sure that our children are not bearing the burden of the adverse affects of this recession.

The reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Programs happens only every five years, so we must act now if we want to make a difference for our hungry children. Call, write or e-mail your congressional leaders and tell them it's time to "Help Feed Our Future."

Oregon's children cannot afford to wait.

Beverlee Hughes is executive director for FOOD For Lane County.
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Title Annotation:Local Opinion
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 7, 2010
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