Experts ask Congress to boost antihunger funds

WASHINGTON – With food-stamp enrollment at record levels, antihunger experts urged Congress on Wednesday to increase benefits, at least temporarily, in the largest U.S. program that helps poor people buy food.

Some 28 million Americans received food stamps at latest count, the highest total ever except the 29.8 million recipients in November 2005, when emergency aid was given to victims of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma. Benefits average $1 per meal.

“We strongly support efforts to provide a temporary boost in basic food stamp benefit levels to help people afford a basic healthy diet,” said George Manalo-LeClair of the California Food Policy Advocates.

Minneapolis physician Diana Cutts and the Food Research and Action Center also backed an increase in benefits as part of a new economic stimulus bill.

Rep. Joe Baca, the California Democrat who chairs the House Agriculture subcommittee that oversees public nutrition programs, said food stamps should be included in a stimulus bill.

“The problem we’re going to have is the pay-go requirement,” said Baca, referring to a rule requiring budget cuts to offset new spending.

“The United States is quite unique among industrial democracies because we let so many of our people go hungry and we seem to be doing precious little to close this gap,” said Larry Brown, of the Harvard University School of Public Health.

Brown is co-author of a 2007 report that estimated hunger in America costs $90 billion a year in lower productivity, higher health-care costs and work by charities to help the poor.