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Witness to Hunger Photo Exhibit Impacts Massachusetts Legislature; Protect Safety Net a Priority

The Witness to Hunger photo exhibit opened yesterday at the State House and continues through Thursday, with special events today. Below is a detailed news story with comments from the House Speaker and Senate President.  Major kudos to Child Health Watch, Project Bread and ABCD for bringing this important photo exhibit to the State House. Most importantly, major thanks to the eight Boston area women who have shared their photos and life stories in the struggle against hunger. As the Senate President noted yesterday to the eight women, “You gave hunger a name and a face and that makes a world of difference.” 

The FY2013 budget process is now in full swing. The next few weeks are an excellent time to communicate budget priorities to House and Senate Ways and Means. For MLRI's analysis of the Governor's FY2013 proposed budget relative to the safety net and. specifically, the DTA admin for SNAP staffing, MEFAP, state WIC supplement and Elder Nutrtion, go to:  http://www.masslegalservices.org/content/mlri-analysis-governors-fy2013-... A copy of the Food SNAP Coalition's FY2013 recommendations to House Ways and Means in support of the SIEU request to provide a $10M increase in front line SNAP staff to manage the growing SNAP caseload and leverage more SNAP dollars is attached.

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Lawmakers see face of hunger, vow to protect asistance programs
DeLeo wants safety net prioritization in budget

Updated: Monday, 12 Mar 2012, 9:18 PM EDT
Published : Monday, 12 Mar 2012, 9:04 PM EDT

http://www.wwlp.com/dpp/news/politics/state_politics/lawmakers-see-face-...

BOSTON (State House News Service) - Congressman Jim McGovern called hunger “ a political condition,” while House Speaker Robert DeLeo on Monday said safety net programs that provide food assistance and other services to the poor should be prioritized as leaders developing next year’s state budget look to make cuts in state spending.

“It’s going to be a very, very difficult budget. There’s no question about that. On the other hand there are certain programs I think we really have to take a close look at in terms of priorities, and I think especially those that help the most vulnerable amongst us,” DeLeo told the News Service after speaking at a hunger awareness event at the State House.

Thirty-four photos were put on display at the State House on Monday as part of an exhibit called “Witnesses to Hunger” depicting the struggles those living in poverty face every day.

Eight mothers from the Boston-area were joined by fellow participants from Philadelphia to highlight the public awareness campaign going on in cities around the country. The photo exhibit will be on display through Thursday in Doric Hall, with a panel discussion and legislative luncheon planned for later this week.

Several of the women said they were going to college in hopes of getting a better job, while Bonita, of Boston, said she looks for work every day, but has been without a job for three years. They said they were just looking for “a hand up, not a hand out”

“When you look at our pictures, don’t feel sorry. We don’t want sorrow. We don’t want a hand out. We want a hand up,” said one Boston mother who works and attends Northeastern University while caring for her one child.

DeLeo pointed to votes this session in the House as examples of the Legislature’s commitment to hunger issues, including the creation of a $9.5 million low-income housing tax credit program and a vote authorizing a memorandum of understanding between state agencies to coordinate subsidies and services.

“We’re not going to end there,” DeLeo said, suggesting “random acts of kindness and generosity go a long way.”

Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray and Senate President Therese Murray also spoke at the event expressing their commitment to addressing issues of affordable housing, homelessness and hunger.

“You gave hunger a name and a face and that makes a world of difference,” Senate President Murray told the women whose photographs were included in the exhibit.

Murray, who noted that the Legislature has worked to make sure programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Snap) have taken the “least possible cuts during the last few budget cycles.”

“No parent should ever have to choose between rent and utilities and feeding their children, and no child should have to experience the physical and emotional pain that comes with being hungry,” Murray said.

According to Project Bread and the Witnesses to Hunger Campaign, 10.8 percent of Massachusetts households faced “food insecurity” in 2010, the highest proportion since 2007. The percentage was lower than the national average of families with insufficient access to food that stands at 14.5 percent.

Since 2009, the SNAP program has been a victim of budget cuts brought on by the escalation of health care costs and a recession that cut deeply into state tax collections. After $1.17 million was spent on the food stamp program in 2009, funding in 2010 was cut to $528,000.

Gov. Deval Patrick in his budget proposal for fiscal 2013 has recommended increasing funding for SNAP from $900,000 this fiscal year to $1.2 million to meet projected need.

McGovern, a Worcester Democrat and longtime advocate for hunger issues, called the problem of hunger “a national scandal.”

“I tell people all the time that hunger is a political condition,” McGovern said, arguing that the United States has the resources and available food supply to end hunger, but lacks the political will.

He said he tells his colleagues in Congress who argue the country can’t afford to spend more on safety net programs that, “We can’t afford not to. There is a real cost to hunger.”

Organizers said hunger makes it difficult for children to learn straining the education system, leads to a lack of productivity in the workplace and creates an avoidable cost burden on the health care system.

Referencing attacks on President Barack Obama for being the “food stamp president,” McGovern said he was “proud of this country that we have a safety net” and called it “maddening” that the problem of hunger hasn’t been solved.

Rep. Gloria Fox, a Roxbury Democrat who took the microphone while organizers waited for DeLeo to arrive, said she wished activists “fought poverty the way we used to,” referencing her efforts as a community organizer during the 1960s.

“Shame on us that we need to have a day or a week for hunger…,” Fox said. “We shouldn’t have to beg for assistance in a country that has so much.”

Organizers said the solution to hunger broadly includes a commitment from government to ensure access to healthy, affordable food in all neighborhoods; increased funding for housing subsidies; guaranteed access to emergency shelters; more affordable housing units; and sustained programs that provide services and support to families struggling to pay rent or mortgages.
 

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