First of a series
The bipartisan budget committee's decisions on how to cut the deficit by $1.2 trillion could have a direct effect on children in our region.
"If federal funding were reduced, we'd have to make up for it with local and state funding, or we'd have to cut back," said Paul Regnier, spokesman for . "Either the families would have to come up with the money somehow, or the kids wouldn't have another option."
Despite the region's wealth, one in six children in Northern Virginia and Montgomery County are struggling with hunger.
"The increased participation is tied to poverty in the area. Families don't have food at home, which is an issue we need to address," said Marla Caplon, director of food and nutrition services for .
Fairfax is an affluent county, Regnier said, but it has pockets of poverty with more students qualifying for free or reduced priced lunches.
"It's hard for anyone to think about anything other than getting something to eat when they're hungry," Regnier said. "So for kids who are getting little or nothing to eat, it's difficult to learn. We don't have problems with that right now, because we do have these free and reduced priced programs for kids."
Edward Cooney, executive director of the Congressional Hunger Center, said observers can't predict what might happen to federal nutrition program budgets, because the super committee hasn't been transparent in its deliberations.
"But the House and Senate Agriculture committee chairs have recommended a $23 billion cut package, and $4 billion is rumored to be to SNAP [The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program]," he said. SNAP is the new name for the program that distributes food stamps.
But what Cooney, who has been closely involved with the fight against hunger for decades, stressed most was his concern that people might not understand who has the most to lose with cuts.
"When you're wondering what the face of people who use these nutrition assistance programs looks like, it's important to understand that it's everybody," he said. "It's people who are employed but struggling, the underemployed, the unemployed. It's old people, but mostly, it's children. So when you're talking about cutting back programs like SNAP, often times you're talking about cutting benefits to children. I don't think people know this."
By age 20, half of American children receive SNAP benefits, and 48 percent of SNAP recipients are children. In the greater Washington metro area, more than 200,000 children are struggling with hunger, according to estimates by the Capital Area Food Bank.
Even if more cuts are avoided, some organizations that depend on federal aid are already feeling the impact of a tightened budget. In August, the Manna Food Center in Gaithersburg was informed that it would receive no more canned or frozen proteins from the USDA Emergency Food Assistance Program through the end of the year. While Manna has secured donations from individuals and private businesses, without outside help, they will not have turkeys or other traditional protein items to give during the holiday season.Percentage of students eligible for free and reduced-price meals 1999-2000 2008-2009 Montgomery County 22.3 27 Fairfax County 17.7 21.8 District of Columbia 54 67
Source: National Center for Education Statistics.
Tomorrow: Manna Food Center in Gaithersburg is bracing for record numbers.
Wednesday: Program are making fresh produce more accessible to the region's needy.