$15 billion in federal aid urged for hungry children


WASHINGTON -- Advocates called for up to $15 billion in new government food programs after the release yesterday of a new two-year study showing that one in four American children suffers from hunger or is in danger of hunger.

About 5.5 million children under age 12 are hungry and 6 million others are at risk, and hungry children are more likely to suffer health problems and miss school, said the Food Research and Action Center, a Washington-based nutrition advocacy group that conducted the study.

"Children are the first-line casualties in the war against hunger," said Representative Thomas J. Downey, D-N.Y., acting chairman the House Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee, at a news conference announcing the conclusions of the study. "Hungry children in this land of plenty is the ultimate obscenity."

The report marked the launching of the Campaign to End Childhood Hunger that is to include anti-hunger groups in 40 states, as well as national organizations and business and congressional leaders.

"We believe that by moving immediately to strengthen an array of food programs already in place, we can alleviate much of the childhood hunger problem," said FRAC Executive Director Robert J. Fersh, who said a "dramatic impact" could be achieved with $15 billion in federal funding.

The study was drawn from door-to-door interviews with 2,335 low-income families in seven states -- Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Minnesota, Michigan and New York -- in 1989 and 1990. Based on those estimates, state percentages of hungry children were projected.

In Maryland, the study projected that there were 125,762 children under 12, or 16.4 percent of that population, who were either hungry or at risk of being hungry.

A hunger "scale" was constructed from the answers to eight questions. A score of five or more affirmative answers to questions such as "Do any of your children ever go to bed hungry because there is not enough money to buy food?" indicated hunger. A score of one to four indicated that the family was "at risk."

The study said there were reports during the 1980s of growing hunger because of an economic downturn and cuts in federal "safety net" programs. But many policy-makers dismissed the information as anecdotal, and in 1984 the President's Task Force on Food Assistance concluded that there was no definitive evidence of hunger.

The nationwide campaign hopes to push for increases in federal food programs, including the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the School Breakfast Program.

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