Op-Ed: Sequestration Pushes People Away From the Table

How D.C.’s ongoing dysfunction is harming America’s hungry.

For the folks on Capitol Hill, the sequester is a political chess match. For America’ s hungriest families, it’s much more important. (Photo: Allan Baxter/Getty Images)

Mar 6, 2013

In the final weeks of February, the media buzzed with reports about sequestration—across-the-board federal budget cuts slated to take effect on March 1. However, the newscasts and political discussions rarely mentioned the consequences of those cuts on the one in six Americans who periodically go hungry or ration food—or the nearly 900 million people around the world who face hunger. Some of the individuals who will be most harmed by the cuts are the focus of a new movie and national campaign to end hunger.

On the day that sequestration took effect, a new documentary about hunger, A Place at the Table, began showing in theaters across the country. Just as An Inconvenient Truth expanded awareness of climate change and Food, Inc. exposed unpleasant aspects of food production, the new film by Participant Media and Magnolia Pictures educates people about a basic truth: Hunger is surprisingly persistent and deep in this land of plenty.

March 1 also marked the launch of Bread for the World’s 2013 Offering of Letters campaign, which focuses on petitioning the president and writing letters to Congress, urging them to end hunger. Together, the movie and Bread’s campaign aim to raise sufficient political will to ensure a place at the table for everyone.

Now is precisely the moment to bring hunger and poverty to our national round table.

Sequestration, implemented by the Budget Control Act of 2011, will harm many individuals as it rolls out in coming months. But the damage will be magnified among hungry and poor people. If Congress fails to replace the legislation, $85 billion will be cut from federal programs this year and $1.2 trillion will be cut over the next decade. Many of those programs lift people out of hunger and poverty.

RELATED: Complete Coverage of America's Hidden Hunger Crisis

Unless Congress replaces sequestration with a better budget solution, at least 600,000 low-income women and children will be denied access to vital nutrition in fiscal year 2013. The Women, Infants, and Children program (WIC) serves roughly nine million families in the United States, providing supplemental food, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income mothers and their children under five years of age.

Many women begin receiving WIC benefits during pregnancy, increasing the possibility of a healthy birth. Because of the improved health outcomes, every dollar spent on WIC results in as much as $3 in healthcare savings, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Barbie Izquierdo, a young mother profiled in A Place at the Table, knows that nutrition programs are a lifeline to people facing economic difficulty. When she was out of work during the recession, Barbie received WIC benefits for herself and her children. The assistance relieved some of her worry about their health and growth.

Barbie also remembers times when she was not able to provide for her children and did not have adequate assistance. “I know what it’s like to have your children look at you in the eyes and tell you that they’re hungry,” says Barbie, “and you have to try to force them to go to sleep as if they did something wrong.” This is a situation that no mother should have to endure.

Other groups who will pay the price of the sequester include seniors; four million meals will be cut from programs like Meals on Wheels. In addition, the number of homeless people will increase as 125,000 families lose rental assistance and 100,000 formerly homeless people are kicked out of the programs that gave them shelter.

Despite the sequester having taken effect, its worst consequences can still be avoided. This week, Congress is considering proposals to suspend the sequester and stop the budget cuts. However, anti-hunger policy analysts at Bread for the World and elsewhere worry that unless lawmakers are given enough incentive, they may simply shift even more cuts to programs that help hungry and poor people.

In the late 1960s, the public demanded that our leaders end hunger and poverty. The time is ripe for another unified national effort. We are close. Remarkably, during the recession hunger did not increase in the United States—because people were able to turn to programs like WIC when they needed them. But if the sequester remains, more mothers will go hungry, more children will be born with low birth weights, more people will live on the streets.

A Place at the Table clarifies the issue of hunger in the United States by showing the depth of the problem as well as the simplicity of the solution. It is a valuable tool for anyone who cares about hungry people.

Likewise, Bread for the World’s 2013 Offering of Letters, “A Place at the Table,” is a vital vehicle for action, equipping anti-hunger advocates with resources to better understand the issues and hold their lawmakers accountable. We should be welcoming people to the table, not pushing them away.

Editor's Note: A Place at the Table was produced by Participant Media, TakePart's parent company. 

More on America's Hidden Hunger Crisis:

• One in Four U.S. Kids Don’t Know Where Their Next Meal Is Coming From

• Who’s Paying the Price for Hunger in America? You.

• Op-Ed: Ensuring a Place at the Table for Everyone

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