Oregon Gov. Tom Kulongoski lived on $21 worth of food for a week — the average weekly food stamp budget for his state’s residents — during Hunger Awareness Week, April 20-27. Oregon Food Bank spokesperson Jean Kemp-Ware said the governor’s initiative dramatized the plight of 425,000 Oregonians who rely on food stamps to stave off hunger each month.

The action was part of the successful struggle to block Bush administration cuts that would have terminated food stamps for 50,000 people in Oregon, she told the World. Every month, she said, hundreds of thousands of Oregon’s poor run out of food stamps by the third week and are forced to turn to food pantries and soup kitchens to keep from starving.

Denise Holland, executive director of South Carolina’s Harvest Hope food bank, told the World her organization provides food for 200,000 families across the state. “Every year we conduct a survey of how many people we are serving,” she said. “For the past six years, the rate has risen by about 30 percent every year.”

She added, “We see an incredible number of working families that simply can’t make it. The cost of gasoline, that’s money that was going for food now going to pay those higher expenses. People on the edge are being pushed into a crisis situation.

“There’s no reason for hunger,” she said, but “we have a lot of hunger in America. The face of hunger is real. It could happen to any of us.”

In 1968, a CBS documentary titled “Hunger in America” exposed severe malnutrition in the U.S. Faced with public outrage, Congress enacted a range of measures — the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, expansion of food stamps, the Women, Infant and Children (WIC) nutrition program, free or reduced cost school lunch and breakfast programs and Meals on Wheels for senior citizens — which reduced hunger and malnutrition during the 1970s.

Now it appears that hunger is roaring back.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass), co-chair of the Congressional Hunger Center, charged recently that 40 percent of those eligible do not receive food stamps. The average benefit is $1 per person per meal.

McGovern called it “unconscionable that programs proven to combat hunger in America are continually under attack” by the Bush administration. The surplus food program is continually “zeroed out” by the administration, he charged, and the food stamp program is “constantly derided with ‘fraud, waste, and abuse,’” although the GAO reports the program is corruption-free.

McGovern denounced regulations requiring legal immigrants to wait five years before becoming eligible for food stamps and denying low-income school children free meals during the summer because school is not in session.

At least 5.4 million people have been pushed into poverty since 2000, bringing the total to over 37 million people, 12.4 million of them children. Hunger follows close behind. Disproportionately it is African Americans, Latinos and other people of color who go hungry. Immigrant families are among the hardest hit. Undocumented immigrants are not counted.

Debbie Weinstein, executive director of the Washington-based Human Needs Coalition, blames lack of income for rising hunger. “As we came out of the recession in the early 1990s, the prosperity was never shared, especially with the poorest people,” she told the World. “They have been left struggling to make ends meet. We’ve had report after report of the increasing inequality in this country. The very richest are seizing an ever greater share of the wealth.”

An increase in the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour minimum wage is “anti-hunger” legislation. The House approved it, but Republicans are blocking it in the Senate by attaching new tax giveaways for the rich, she said.

The good news is that since the Nov. 7 election, the political situation has changed, Weinstein said. “We are no longer just fighting to stop cutbacks. We can actually push for increases in these programs.”

The Progressive Caucus introduced an alternative budget, authored by Reps. Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey, California Democrats, which cuts the Pentagon budget by $86 billion this year and saves another $200 billion by leaving Iraq. It raises $300 billion more by ending Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent of the population.

The half-trillion-dollar savings is earmarked to fully fund nutrition programs, federal aid to education, CHIP health care for children, rebuilding New Orleans and other human needs.

It failed to win a majority vote, yet that budget sets minimum targets in the current battles over appropriations, Weinstein said.

Eight Republican presidential candidates, in a recent debate at the Reagan Library, could not think of a single thing wrong in the United States. By contrast, Democratic candidate John Edwards is campaigning in poverty-stricken North Carolina and New Orleans.

In his recent book “Ending Poverty in America,” he writes, “The men, women and children living in poverty — one in eight of us — do not have enough money for the food, shelter and clothing they need. … That is not a problem. That is not a challenge. That is a plague.”

greenerpastures21212 @yahoo.com