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34 Million in Poverty

September 26, 1985

Thank you for sharing with your readers Nancy Amidei's illuminating comments (Editorial Pages, Sept. 8) on the 34 million Americans living below the poverty line--40% of whom are children.

Her claim that "poverty can be reduced where there is broad political support for policies, that taken together, add up to a minimally adequate income that is indexed to rise with inflation" echoes the recent findings of the Physician Task Force on Hunger in America.

Declaring that we have enough food, wealth, and recent experience with successful policies and programs to end hunger in the United States , the task force asserts we could do the job in six months. What more striking challenge and measurable testimony to our national ideals and political viability can we ask for?

The task force credits federal food assistance and income supports in the 1970s with a dramatically lower incidence of physical symptoms of malnutrition among the poor. Conversely, our political choice to severely cut food stamp funding and child nutrition programs in the early 1980s now reaps us a bitter reward: more low birth-weight babies vulnerable to costly and debilitating illness, increases in anemia and failure-to-thrive syndrome among children, and greatly impaired health and productivity among adults.

To respond to the U.S. hunger crisis, "a health epidemic" in its words, the task force urges Congress to (1) strengthen the food stamp program, (2) enhance school and other meals programs for children, (3) use the women and infant care and medical programs more fully, (4) expand the elderly meals programs, (5) protect families' income through expanding unemployment benefits and aid to families with dependent children, and (6) monitor the population's nutritional status.

Contrary to popular belief, such programs do not "hook" people on public assistance. Amidei notes, "The population in poverty is not made up of the same individuals year after year (only about 2.5% of the population is 'persistently poor')." Until greater employment and wage equity lift women's income earnings, the federal food assistance initiatives outlined above are crucial to our children's well-being.

As Congress will soon vote authorizations for domestic social programs, now is the time to write or call in support for ending hunger in the United States--a cornerstone of national security.


West Hollywood

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