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Governor ignores 400,000 hungry Iowans: IFBA State Director responds to the Condition of the State address

indexI was honored to claim a seat in the House Chambers as our Governor – the Honorable Terry Branstad -delivered his Condition of the State address. It was a true pleasure to be present and surrounded by state leaders and members of the general public that have made a difference in Iowa over the past year.

A well-spoken and veteran governor delivered a smooth and convincing speech. Unfortunately, he ignored the 12.8% of Iowans that live under the federal poverty level and the 12.9% of Iowans that struggle with hunger. The governor did not acknowledge the 19.3% of all children in Iowa that do not know where their next meal is coming from. He did not mention that one in five children who are hungry do more poorly in school and lack the concentration to succeed.[1] He did not mention that one in seven expecting mothers in Iowa may be at greater risk for major depression and other mental health problems.[2] The governor did not mention that food insecurity is associated with a range of chronic illnesses.[3] We cannot ignore these numbers.

If the governor wishes for Iowa to become the healthiest state in the nation and is determined to make our education system the best, he will need to make fighting-hunger a priority. The lasting effects of hunger on health, education, and the economy are alarming.

As the governor concluded his address and exited to a standing ovation, I reflected on his words – or lack of words in this case – and wondered how such a glaring social injustice can be completely omitted from a speech of this magnitude. I don’t know the answer to this. Quite frankly, we don’t have time to understand the reasoning. What I do know is that WE ALL need to strap on our boots, grab our megaphones, and speak up for our friends and neighbors who struggle with hunger. WE ALL need to emphasize the importance of a public-private partnership in combating hunger in our state. WE ALL need to fight for our fellow Iowans to ensure EVERYONE has a fair chance at achieving the American Dream. We will not ignore this issue and we don’t think the Governor should either.

[1] Cook, John and Jeng, Karen. Child food insecurity: The economic impact on our nation. Feeding America.

[2] Heflin, Siefert, and Williams (2005) Food insufficiency and women’s mental health: Findings from a 3-year panel of welfare recipients. Social Science & Medicine, 61, 1971-1982.

[2] Whitaker, Phillips, and Orzol (2006) Food insecurity and the risks of depression and anxiety in mothers and behavior problems in their pre-school-aged children. Pediatrics, 118, e859–e868.

[3] Seligman, Laraia, and Kushel (2009) Food Insecurity Is Associated with Chronic Disease among Low-Income NHANES Participants. Journal of Nutrition, 140, 304-310


SNAP Challenge

I recently learned of the SNAP Challenge to live for a week on the average amount of benefits a SNAP recipient receives; $4.50 per day!

I was excited at the prospect but as the week approached and then the first day, I had more than enough EXCUSES why that week would not work for me.  Jury duty popped up, out of town travel which means dining out, a birthday party for a friend.  It just wasn’t going to work THAT week.

What?  Can a SNAP recipient pick and choose when to eat on $4.50 or the amount they receive?  NO

It gave me a chance to reflect on how fortunate I am, that, although I do live on a pretty strict monthly budget, I definitely have much more flexibility than 35 years ago when I was a SNAP recipient, raising a future principal (Mom’s bragging rights).   I remember stretching my food budget by eating at my mother’s house a couple times a week, something not all can do. And I remember “government cheese” and the other commodities we received at the local CAP.  But the main thing I remember vividly which still affects me today, was that I was unable to purchase non-food items like Kleenex, toilet paper, aluminum foil, paper towels, etc.   I have been accused of hoarding those items and I guess I do stock up when they are on sale, probably because I went without them for a few years.

Getting back to the $4.50 a week.  I guess it isn’t nearly as important to actually experience the burden of worrying about each penny as long as we have a sincere understanding and appreciation that others really do live with this burden day in and day out, and that we devote ourselves and our cause to doing everything we can each day to alleviate the scourge of hunger.  Whether it is helping someone sign up for SNAP, donating food, money or time to your local pantry or food Bank, or organizing a community food drive, there is always something you can do if your heart is willing.

– Cindy Jones