With the 2008 presidential election already heating up and candidates trying to refocus the national agenda onto domestic issues due to increasingly controversial foreign policy positions, one would think that the ever-prevalent issue of poverty in the United States, and the resulting hunger that families experience, would be prominent. While such is conspicuously absent from the national scene, it is being addressed by students at Colgate through work in the Center for Outreach and Volunteer Education (COVE).
On February 10 and 11, members of the Colgate Hunger Outreach Program and Colgate’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity traveled to Boston University to attend the 2007 East Coast Student Conference on Hunger and Homelessness, part of the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness. These students took two days out of their busy schedules to network with other college service organizations and hear from a variety of expert speakers discussing policy proposals and opportunities for community service.
On a national level, the last major legislation aimed at hunger issues was the Hunger Relief Act of 2000, sponsored in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and in the United States Senate by Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA). The Hunger Relief Act, which would have increased food stamp benefits and authorized addition appropriations for the nation’s Emergency Food Assistance Program, had many co-sponsors and was a truly bipartisan bill. Unfortunately, it did not pass either the House or the Senate. It is noteworthy that this legislation was introduced seven years ago, and there has still been no major action taken.
One recent prominent legislative victory for anti-hunger advocates was the Childhood Hunger Relief Act signed into law by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (D-IL) on June 30, 2006. This state law increased the availability of free or reduced-price meals to poor students in public schools. While some states have similar laws, Illinois’ is a model that has been found to benefit a significant number of students both in urban centers such as Chicago and in the rural parts of Illinois. Due to its success in a diverse state like Illinois, similar laws should be strongly considered by other states.
In the average county in the U.S., 12.4 percent citizens are below the poverty line. It is clear that the federal government should take an active role in supporting these families.
Madison County, in which Colgate resides, has 11.1 percent of its residents living below the poverty line, making it the 23rd poorest coutny of New York State’s 62 counties. The other two counties that Colgate students serve through the COVE, Chenango and Oneida, have 14.4 percent and 13 percent living below the poverty line, respectively.
Poverty and the resulting hunger is an issue that needs to be addressed by local, state and federal governments, as well as the people of the electorate that are fortunate enough to be able to provide enough food for their families.
Poverty and hunger are issues that not all Colgate students may able to relate to, but they need to be understood as pervasive problems in a time when our country is experiencing increasing economic inequity. In an age where it is clear government is not always the answer, it takes brave and caring active citizens like the students in the COVE to take a stand on the behalf of positive change.