The number of Latino families who are food insecure stands in stark contrast to more than 50 million Americans who went hungry last year, but the debate still continues.
Panelists at the “No Mas Hambre” (NMH) summit held in Washington D.C., asserted that Latino families who are food insecure are most likely to feel the effects of cuts because of the fiscal cliff than non-Latinos.
In 2011, an estimated 26 percent of Latino households faced food insecurity, almost twice as much as other Americans, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food insecurity report.
An estimated 250 community leaders gathered at the summit. The organizations include the Alliance to End Hunger, Latino Magazine and First Focus Campaign for Children.
“After we adjourn today, I would implore you to get on your cell phones call your members of Congress and make sure they weigh in with their leadership,” said Ellen Teller of Food Research and Action Center, a group that lobbies for food stamps.
Food stamps might face cuts
Teller is worried that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) might be undergoing a series of cuts in the upcoming year. SNAP is considered the administration’s largest anti-hunger program, yet only 56 percent of eligible Latinos are receiving aid as of last year.
The program grew to $76 billion in 2011 because of the unemployment surge and eligibility under the Obama stimulus package. The president’s conversation with Speaker John Boehner on the ongoing fiscal cliff included the possibility of adding a five-year Farm Bill into the grand bargain.
Under discussion is how much the Farm bill would cut into food stamp spending including SNAP. The House Agriculture committee supports $1.6 billion in cuts within a span of 10 years, which is four times greater than the Senate version. Lawmakers hope to save an estimated $35 billion.
“You have the perfect storm of several things merging,” said Maritza Kelley of First Focus Campaign for Children. “All cuts are not created equally. Certain cuts impact some populations more than others.”
Panelists also indicated that food insecurity adds to the overall debate of obesity, diabetes and nutrition.
“We know that if we can resolve hunger because it is a solvable issue, we know that the rates of obesity, diabetes will correlate with that as well,” said Shannon Huneke of the United Health care.
United Health Care has joined Feeding America as a health care partner. More than 100,000 employees in the United States are participating in food banks and hunger initiatives under their initiative, Huneke claimed.
One in three Latino children are food insecure
The summit also underscored how it affects Latino children. Food insecurity affected an estimated 35 percent of Hispanics and 16 percent of whites, according to 2011 data cited by the Child Trends databank. It further notes that the proportion of households where children had “very low food security,” was about four times as high in black or Hispanic households as it was in white households.
First Focus Campaign for Children highlights that currently one in three Latino children are “hungry,” while one in three are also living in poverty.
Rita Jaramillo, who works with the National Latino Children’s Institute (NLCI), acknowledged that part of the reason for this epidemic is because schools lack the resources for children who are food insecure.
“It’s hard to teach a hungry child,” said Jaramillo. “Those kids come in—because of this overrepresentation of poverty in those communities.”
Jaramillo added that the NLCI’s Salsa, Sabor y Salud initiative helps Latino families make healthy choices for eating and for leading active lifestyles. It incorporates nutrition and exercise, which was developed in collaboration with Kraft foods 10 years ago. It engages immigrant born and native born Latinos through focus groups across the country. Other initiatives include partnering with an estimated 1,300 YMCAs in the United States to target more families.
Jaramillo explained that the larger problem regarding sustaining a healthy lifestyle for families centers on several factors including confusing nutrition labels, the limitations of time and money, and cultural traditions. She said their initiative teaches families how to read labels and to add healthy options to the family diet.
“For me as a Mexicana, it’s hard to give up my tortilla,” Jaramillo said. “We never say no more tortilla, no more pan dulce. It’s in moderation—and because we are such a close knit family—you’re creating a culture of healthy living.”