By EmmaLee Italia | Correspondent
Congressman Chris Smith (R-4) met April 4 with members of the New Jersey Catholic Conference to discuss upcoming legislation that could benefit state residents in danger of nutrition deficits.
Smith, a Hamilton native, discussed food assistance concerns with Patrick Brannigan, NJCC executive director; James King, director of the organization’s Office of Social Concerns, and Adele H. LaTourette, director of the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition’s Center for Food Action. Also present from Smith’s office was Jo Smith Schloeder, district director.
Approaching the problem from a pro-life angle, Smith talked about his efforts to support food assistance particularly during the first 1,000 days of life, from conception to second birthday, and what a difference having access to good nutrition can make.
“[That time] is absolutely transformational in terms of healthier moms and healthier babies,” he said. “Kids grow up to be stronger, [have better immune systems] ... It’s actually backed by the United Nations; the Catholic Conference has been doing more than anyone else globally, saying, ‘If you want to have healthy kids and healthy moms, nutritious food is the key.’”
Smith highlighted a hearing he chaired in October 2015 on food security and nutrition programs in Africa. The hearing discussed the Global Food Security Act, H.R. 1567, a bipartisan bill Smith sponsored that supports food security during that critical developmental period. It was signed into law in 2016. Two follow-up subcommittee meetings, in June 2016 and July 2017, continued the discussion and the impact of the legislation.
“I’m trying to get our country to emphasize the first 1,000 days; we don’t talk about it that way,” Smith said. “We talk about good nutrition, but we don’t say, ‘Hey moms, dads, everyone – you get the first 1,000 days right, you get everything else right.’”
He noted how in terms of mortality, globally the United States is “not doing well... and a lot of it has to do with food insecurity for impoverished women in cities like Trenton.”
LaTourette voiced concerns over the immigrant population, who are dropping from assistance programs out of fear of deportation. “The need is not going away,” she said. “Kids are not getting fed.”
Part of the impetus for the meeting was the 2018 Farm Bill introduced in January. Historically, the farm bill addresses various aspects of agriculture, including food insecurity. Impacting more than just farms and farmers, it affects conservation, trade, nutrition, jobs and infrastructure, agricultural research, forestry and energy. The national Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is funded by the bill, and served more than 43 million Americans in 2017.
As part of the ongoing discussion, representatives of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Rural Life and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul authored a letter in February to U.S. senators on the Committee on Agriculture and the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.
“This is a crucial time for our nation to put poor and hungry people first,” the letter stated. “American policies should provide for poor and hungry people here and abroad, offer effective support for those who grow our food, ensure fairness to family farmers and ranchers while building up rural communities, and promote good stewardship of the land.”
The authors quoted Pope Francis’s 2016 address to the U.N. World Food Programme: “Food shortage is not something natural, it is not a given ... the earth continues in many parts of the world to yield its fruits ... the faces of the starving remind us that we have foiled its purposes.”
The letter called for Congress to prioritize “robust funding of programs that feed hungry families ... strengthening SNAP by improving outreach, streamlining enrollment ... and support for The Emergency Food Assistance Program and the Commodity Supplemental Food program,” as well as assistance that supports farmers, conservation and rural development.