Food banks are highly efficient and resourceful public-private partnerships that provide food each year to more than 620,000 hungry Kentuckians. However, over the past two years our food bank network has been hit by a vicious one-two punch of unprecedented high demand and a significant decrease in available food resources.
Food banks in Kentucky have seen an 83.5 percent increase in the number of clients served since 2006. Without a corresponding increase in food, we will not be able to meet the state's need for emergency food services.
While many breathed a sigh of relief over the recent debt ceiling deal, we just took a deep breath. That's because the fight to protect hungry families is just beginning. Addressing the debt ceiling was only the first of many high hurdles we are depending on our elected leaders to clear, as they must now make critical decisions about which programs to fund and which to cut.
With all discretionary programs on the table for cuts, any cuts made to anti-hunger programs will put further pressure on our food banks. Cutting other low-income programs would further increase demand for food assistance when we are already serving a lot more with a lot less.
Food is a basic human need. Hungry children are more likely to experience developmental difficulties and have a harder time learning at school. Parents are less productive at work, more stressed at home, and our frail elderly are more likely to get sick. More than 50 million Americans do not have consistent access to food, including more than 700,000 right here in Kentucky.
While the social cost of hunger is high, hunger also leads to higher costs in health care, education, elder care and work-force readiness. Anti-hunger programs are more than just a safety net for individual families. They are investments in our communities.
Cutting programs like the Emergency Food Assistance Program, which provides high quality, nutritious food for food banks to distribute, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which provides a nutritionally appropriate box of food for low-income seniors, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, which serves over half of the infants in America, would trade meager savings now for higher costs later.
As Congress and the administration make difficult decisions about our national priorities, it is imperative that they consider the consequences for the most vulnerable Americans. With unemployment high, investing in domestic hunger programs is not only the right thing to do but also makes fiscal sense, as these programs allow us to build our communities and see savings in health care and education down the road.