Three States and Two Tribes to Get $27 Million to Fight Childhood Hunger

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(L-R) Navajo Nation Vice President Rex Lee Jim, Kevin Concannon, Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, USDA; and Leslie Wheelock, Director, Office of Tribal Relations, USDA. Washington, DC. Photo by Jared King.

Three States and Two Tribes to Get $27 Million to Fight Childhood Hunger

By RON NIXON

New York Times

MARCH 3, 2015

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration, as part of a broader push to address persistent poverty and childhood hunger in rural areas, said Tuesday that it would provide millions of dollars in grants to help several economically distressed communities.

Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, said three states and two tribal governments would get more than $27 million to fund demonstration projects to provide food to children and their families, including projects that would provide home delivery of food or meals to children on weekends.

The projects will be tested in Kentucky, Nevada and Virginia, as well as in the Chickasaw and Navajo tribal nations.

“These projects are a continuation of the administration’s efforts to help people get back to work and earn enough to take care of their families, and reach kids in high-poverty rural areas,” Mr. Vilsack said in an interview.

Despite an uptick in the economy in recent years, rural areas continue to lag behind, and children are hit especially hard. Approximately 6.1 million children live in poverty in rural areas, and 90 percent of counties with the highest level of child poverty are in rural areas, census data shows. Nearly 40 percent of Native American children live in poverty, the data shows.

Rex Lee Jim, vice president of the Navajo Nation, said his government would get about $2.4 million in grants. Among other things, he said, it will pay about 12 people to travel around the Navajo reservation in New Mexico to educate families about government-provided food benefits.

“There are a lot of government programs like food stamps and free and reduced meals that people on the reservation may be eligible for,” Mr. Jim said, “but many of our people aren’t aware of these programs.”

A $3.6 million grant for Kentucky focuses on counties in the state’s southeastern coal mining region. It will be used to test the impact of allowing households with children under 16 to deduct from their income the cost of traveling to the grocery store so they could qualify for more food stamp benefits, state officials said. Families that qualify could get an increase of about $50 a month in food stamps.

“We believe that with additional dollars we will see more frequent trips to the grocery store,” said Audrey Haynes, secretary of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

The projects are just part of the Agriculture Department efforts to focus on poverty and hunger among children, particularly in rural areas, Mr. Vilsack said.

The Agriculture Department will soon announce plans to expand its summer meals program for children, provide funding to schools to buy equipment to prepare healthier meals, and expand job training and employment programs.

The Agriculture Department’s push to address childhood hunger came as the Republican-led House announced plans to roll back new school meal regulations, and considers revisions to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, to reduce the number of people receiving food stamp benefits.

Mr. Vilsack said the efforts in Congress could undercut the gains made in reducing childhood hunger and poverty.

“The answer is not to roll the nutrition standards back,” Mr. Vilsack said. “And as far as reducing the number of people on SNAP, let’s find the right way to do this by focusing on people who want to work and helping them. “