Carlos Chavez / The Arizona Republic / AP

White House 'not close' to 2015 goal of eliminating child hunger in US

Economic headwinds and inadequate public assistance hinder 2008 campaign vow, says report

President Barack Obama is getting close to the deadline for realizing one of his most ambitious 2008 campaign promises: a pledge to eradicate childhood hunger in the United States by 2015. A new report from the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) says his administration is nowhere near achieving it.

“Needless to say, the nation is not close to eliminating childhood hunger in this — the target — year,” write FRAC researchers in the report “A Plan of Action to End Hunger in America,” released Wednesday.

Approximately one-fifth of all U.S. children live in food-insecure households, according to the most recent data from the Department of Agriculture, which defines food security as “access to enough food for for an active, healthy life for all household members.” As of 2014, 15.4 percent of Americans overall reside in food-insecure households — a total of more than 48 million people.

The gap between the Obama administration and its stated goal is due in large part to bad timing, FRAC argues. The percentage of food insecure persons spiked in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 financial collapse and has fallen only modestly, from a peak of 16.6 percent in 2009.

The federal government attempted to blunt the increase in hunger through an emergency expansion of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as food stamps). But food stamp disbursements began to decline again in 2013 after the White House brokered a deal to reroute SNAP funding into a federal school lunch program. The result was an across-the-board, automatic $5 billion cut to SNAP benefits labeled the “hunger cliff” by food assistance charities.

FRAC’s plan recommends renewed investment in SNAP benefits along with child nutrition programs. But ever since that first major post-crisis investment in SNAP, politics appears to have drifted in the opposite direction.

Not long after the $5 billion food stamp cut, Obama signed into law an agricultural omnibus bill that sought to cut an additional $8.7 billion from the program. The actual savings turned out to be less than originally projected because several governors took action to prevent the cuts from taking effect in their states.

More recently, prominent Republican legislators have suggested fundamentally restructuring the SNAP program in a manner that would likely result in fewer benefits. The proponents of this plan include Republicans Paul Ryan, a former vice presidential candidate and head of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee in the house of representatives; and Senator Lindsey Graham, a candidate in the 2016 Republican primary for president.

Rep. Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat and a leading opponent of food stamp cuts in the House, said he believes "Americans will be listening closely to find out which candidates are ready to give struggling families a hand up by tackling poverty, hunger, and many of the other challenges we face."

The Clinton campaign did not return a request for comment for this article, but a McGovern aide said the congressman "has spoken with senior Clinton campaign officials to discuss the need to address hunger and those conversations were positive."

Al Jazeera contacted several other presidential campaigns from both major parties to learn their stated positions on SNAP and food insecurity, but only Donald Trump’s campaign returned a request for comment.

“Mr. Trump will continue to issue policy papers and position statements throughout the fall,” said spokeswoman Hope Hicks in an email. She did not respond to a request for clarification.

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