Local Leaders, National Expert Unveil Plan to End Philadelphia Hunger

“Tough Times Require Partnership and Leadership:” Groups Agree on Concrete Steps for Elected Officials to Stem Rising Hunger

PHILADELPHIA -   As momentum builds behind the effort to pass an $825 billion federal economic recovery package that includes a substantial funding boost for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP – formerly Food Stamps), local anti-hunger advocates and a national expert have united behind a policy platform to insist that federal, state, and local elected officials take decisive actions to end hunger in Philadelphia.

“Philadelphia can not afford to sink more deeply into poverty and hunger. Advocates have a renewed sense of hope that the voices of the hungry will be heard and government leaders will respond,” said Carey Morgan, Executive Director of the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger.

In 2006, 10 percent of households in Pennsylvania were food insecure, according to the USDA, and 145,000 Philadelphians reported cutting the size of meals due to lack of food, according to the Philadelphia Health Management Corporation.  With more than 25 percent of Philadelphia’s 1.4 million residents living below the federal poverty line, including one in three children, Philadelphia currently has the highest poverty rate among the nation’s ten largest cities.   That number is expected to grow considerably over the next year.

“Time is of the essence to move our policies forward, so that we can get people the food they desperately need,” said Bill Clark, President and Executive Director of Philabundance.  “The food cupboards, emergency kitchens and shelters that we serve are seeing an increase in demand of 31 percent, and that number will continue to rise as the economy weakens.”  Steveanna Wynn, Executive Director of the SHARE Food Program adds, “I have been doing this work for 35 years, and this is the worst hunger I have ever seen.  There are so many more people to feed and less food to feed them.”

In an unprecedented agreement, all the major hunger, nutrition, and food groups in Philadelphia call on federal, state, and city elected officials to help pursue the following policy agenda:

* Federal – Working with President Obama and Congress to implement the Administration’s commitment to ending domestic child hunger by 2015, as a down payment on ending all hunger in the U.S., by including major nutrition funding in the economic recovery bill and passing a strong Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Bill.

* Federal – Extending and making permanent Philadelphia’s Universal Feeding Pilot to ensure that low-income students continue to receive free meals at school.

* State – Raising the gross income limit for SNAP benefits from 130 percent of the poverty line to 160 percent of the poverty line, making more families at the edge of poverty eligible.

* State – Increasing funding in the state budget for the State Food Purchase Program to $24 million so that food pantries will have adequate resources to meet increased demand.

* City – Ensuring that the School District of Philadelphia continues to work towards increased participation in the school meals programs so that all eligible children are being served.

* City – To measure the effectiveness of these strategies, the Mayor should establish a formal mechanism to measure household food security in the city.  Through annual monitoring and reporting, the public can hold local, state, and federal leadership accountable for reducing hunger, particularly among children.

Th anti hunger platform released today at the Fresh Start food pantry, was developed as a collaborative effort between local organizations that are concerned about the combination of rising demand for food and the diminishing level of resources available to meet that need.  The Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, Philabundance, SHARE, and the Food Trust joined forces with representatives from the Health Promotion Council of Southeastern Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia GROW Project, and others to initiate the call to action.

At the press conference, Ashley Brunson, former SNAP recipient and mother of one, talked about what these proposed policy changes, mean to her.  “I work full-time and raise a son. The $280 in food stamps I got helped me keep food on the table, until I was cut off because a $63 child support check made my income too high.”  By raising the gross income limit to 160% of the poverty line, Ashley’s benefits would have been reduced, but not eliminated.

Joel Berg, nationally-recognized anti-hunger leader, in Philadelphia to discuss his new book, All You Can Eat: How Hungry Is America? supports the platform. “We have a unique historic opportunity to end hunger once and for all.  It is going to take political leadership at the federal, state, and local levels, as well as groups working together more closely than ever before.  This platform is an important step in that direction. Tough times require partnership and leadership.”

Food and nutrition advocates see the anti-hunger platform as a crucial step to improving the health and well-being of Philadelphians.  Yael Lehmann, Executive Director of The Food Trust, said, “We applaud Mayor Nutter’s efforts to increase access to healthy food. By working together we can provide more nutritious food to those most in need.” Robin Rifkin of the Philadelphia Urban Food and Fitness Alliance (PUFFA), also said, “When community members do not have access to affordable, healthy food or places to be active, their health and quality of life suffers.”

Mary Summers, Senior Fellow at the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, said,

“Joel Berg’s book and visit to Philadelphia could not be better timed.  Every low-income household in this city desperately needs his straightforward proposals for cutting the red tape to federal nutrition programs and increasing access to healthy food.  It is terrific that so many organizations are coming together to co-sponsor his visit and promote an anti-hunger platform for Philadelphia.”

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