Hunger seen a growing problem in area
|U.S. Rep. James McGovern speaks to the Community Coalition of Greater Attleboro Thursday morning at the Attleboro Arts Museum. (Staff photo by KEITH NORDSTROM)|
They said more families than ever are utilizing free food pantries because they cannot make ends meet due to the high cost of food, housing, gasoline, health care and heating fuel.
"There are a lot of hungry people right here," McGovern, D-Worcester, told a breakfast meeting of the Area Community Coalition of Greater Attleboro.
He said hunger in America goes beyond the stereotype of the poor, homeless person and is now found in working class families and the elderly.
Hospital emergency rooms are treating more elderly patients who have damaged their stomachs by taking medication without eating because they cannot afford both medicine and food, McGovern said.
Janice Godfrey of the Rehoboth Council on Aging said she volunteers at a charity food pantry on Easter Sundays.
Last year she sat around eating jelly beans because so few people took advantage of the pantry on Easter.
This year, she said, so many people came for free food that "I never worked so hard."
She said a big problem is the rising price of milk. A gallon has hit $4 in some stores and is expected to keep rising throughout the year.
McGovern said it might sound odd, but obesity can be related to hunger.
He said poor families give their children soda and junk food because they cannot afford milk and fresh vegetables.
The congressman said there is some help available, but Massachusetts has one of the lowest rates for applying for food stamps in the country.
He said he supports a proposal to provide a breakfast to school children at their desk first thing in the morning and another to extend school lunch programs for the poor throughout the summer.
Mary Ellen Goodwin of Beta Community Services proposed another way of helping hungry families.
She said the debit cards the food stamp program gives to families are not accepted at some discount stores, such as BJ's Wholesale Club.
If the cards were accepted by the discount stores, poor families could save $1 on every gallon of milk and get other food for less to make their food stamp allotment stretch farther, she said.
The meeting touched on a variety of issues affecting social services.
Speakers said workers have not received raises in years, affordable housing is disappearing in the Attleboro area and a federal fuel assistance program is inadequate.
A few speakers said the United States could afford to take care of its needy citizens if it was not spending so much money on the war in Iraq.
McGovern said that since Democrats took over Congress, there has been a renewed emphasis on the poor and next year will increase funding for many social services.
Later, he explained that to pay for the extra spending on social services, other areas of the budget will have to be cut, or tax decreases passed years ago will be allowed to expire.
The budget resolution passed by the House rejected President Bush's proposal to cut food stamps by 280,000 families and home meals for 500,000 senior citizens.
It also increases funding for agriculture programs that support nutrition by $20 billion, according to McGovern's Washington office.