Guest Blog by Mary Ryan, with Hunger Task Force in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
As Organizer for Hunger Task Force, Milwaukee’s only free and local food bank and anti-hunger advocacy organization, I see people in Wisconsin struggle everyday to feed themselves or their families. Milwaukee is one of the poorest large cities in the country. Forty percent of Milwaukee children live in poverty. WIC, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children as well as FoodShare, Wisconsin’s name for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, are experiencing unprecedented caseloads. Hunger in Milwaukee, as in most places, has reached its highest level in recent years since the Great Depression.
Fortunately, there are over 165 community food drives happening right now with the common goal of raising food to donate to Hunger Task Force. Last year, we delivered over 9.5 million pounds of food free of charge to pantries, soup kitchens and meal programs in Milwaukee. Yet hunger remains a significant problem in our community and although charity is important in fighting hunger today, it alone is not enough to eliminate hunger tomorrow.
Government programs are an effective way to combat hunger and jumpstart the economy. SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is the leading government nutrition program which functions as a safety net fighting hunger. In Wisconsin, more than 759,000 people participate in SNAP (called FoodShare in Wisconsin). For every FoodShare dollar spent locally, $1.79 is pumped back into the economy, creating an economic effect of more than $1.4 million. Hunger Task Force is also a strong advocate for the modernization of FoodShare in Wisconsin. We must do more to improve the efficiency and accessibility of FoodShare. Towards that end, we worked with the State to open its first self-service benefits center in Milwaukee. Hunger Task Force has added seven staff positions that work in two welfare buildings in Milwaukee to assist in the advancement of the self-service model.
Wisconsin utilizes an online application tool called ACCESS to identify and connect eligible populations to health, nutrition, and child care services. Hunger Task Force is happy to support this effective tool which allows people to do the following online: apply, check their case status, conduct their six-month review, and report case changes. We consider ACCESS to be the future of connecting people to government nutrition programs like SNAP/FoodShare, and we support Wisconsin’s efforts to strengthen self-service. Applicants utilize computers, scanners, and telephones to send information or conduct interviews with the State. Applicants and staff also complete a survey administered by Hunger Task Force to assess how well ACCESS is working and to identify any needed improvements or changes.
Hunger Task Force also advocates for Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR) in the lame duck session of Congress this year. CNR regulates programs feeding millions of children through school breakfast and lunch, summer meals, WIC, and Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Access to healthy meals is vital for a child’s growth; hungry children don’t learn. We are urging people to tell Congress to pass a strong CNR bill without cutting SNAP by December 3, 2010. People can take action at www.hungertaskforce.org/take-action/contact-your-elected-officials/.
Hunger Task Force