This week two major events, while covered separately by the media, highlighted the solution to ending hunger in our nation.
In the halls of Congress, the House Agriculture Committee chaired by Texas Congressman Mike Conaway met to better understand the rules and beneficiaries of our most powerful anti-hunger program, SNAP (formerly called Food Stamps). Lawmakers may have been surprised by what they learned: more than half of SNAP households with children are currently employed, but earning so little that they still need help putting food on the table.
Meanwhile, from its corporate headquarters in Arkansas, Wal-Mart announced a decision to raise wages for a half million of its lowest-paid workers – to $10/hour, $2.75 more than the current federal minimum wage. In addition, the company will allow a more liberal use of sick days.
It's our hope that attention to the struggle of low-wage workers on SNAP and Wal-Mart's decision will ultimately result in reduced hunger. The link between food security and financial security is both well-documented and commonsense. When families are given more resources to pay for food or other needs – whether that comes in the form of earned income or SNAP benefits – fewer kids go hungry.
Of course, the devil will be in the details. Will Congress act appropriately on the facts before it, and enact policies that help, not punish families who are having trouble earning enough to eat? Will Wal-Mart pay for the increased wages by raising prices or slowing hiring, both of which could exacerbate hunger for some while reducing it for others?
Regardless, this week made clear that increasing wages is a necessary and important area for those who hope to end hunger through better public policy. A federal minimum wage that matches Wal-Mart would be a good start. Helping families on SNAP obtain living-wage jobs would be another. Recognizing that working families shouldn't go hungry is the first step for both.