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Dishing Up Hunger Relief at the WA Legislature

March 20, 2009

Olympia, WA - This year's Hunger Action Day at the Washington Legislature may seem more like standing in place than action, as advocates for children, senior citizens, working families and food banks visit the statehouse to urge lawmakers not to cut current funding levels for anti-hunger programs. They say demand is up sharply around the state, while, this year, a bill they supported that would have provided free meals to more low-income kids at school has already died in committee.

Linda Stone, Eastern Washington director for the Children’s Alliance, says the group's goal now is to preserve existing funding.

"We want to protect the funds that the state has strategically invested in the school meal programs. Those are funds that not only feed more kids, but bring down more federal dollars to local school districts."

The state covers part of the cost for lunches for children in grades K-through-3, but not for older children. Lawmakers say the state budget just won’t stretch. The state picks up 2.4 percent of the total cost of school meals.

The federal stimulus package includes more money for food stamps - about $20 more per person, per month, which Stone calls a "significant increase." She only hopes it won’t prompt the state to cut anti-hunger funding.

"This crisis really can’t be borne on the backs of hungry families. We have families in the state of Washington who are doing all the right stuff; they’re working, or they’re looking for work. They need help, basically, keeping it together until economic times are better."

Food banks report a 30-percent hike in requests statewide. Advocates are asking lawmakers to keep $5 million in the state budget for food banks and anti-hunger programs. The latest estimate is that 225,000 Washington families are what the government refers to as "food insecure."

Hunger Action Day events are scheduled between 10 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. today in the Columbia Room at the State Capitol Bldg.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA