While hunger rates remain high in Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Wolf has issued an executive order to re-commit to the fight against hunger.
Emily Cleath, communications coordinator for Just Harvest, a non-profit advocacy group aimed at ending hunger, said hunger rates in Pennsylvania have not decreased for too long.
“We have roughly one in six people who are facing food insecurity,” Cleath said. “That has remained true for the past few years. We have one in seven of us on food stamps, and that is not even the entire eligible population of us who could be receiving food stamps.”
She said 15 percent of people who are currently eligible for food stamps do not receive the assistance.
Gov. Wolf's executive order will work to coordinate governmental departments involved in reducing hunger and improving nutrition and will review the operation of the current food programs.
“This is absolutely a step in the right direction,” she said, “This is something that prior Democratic governors beginning with the Casey administration had launched in order to get government agencies whose services and policies affect hunger in Pennsylvania to be working better together.”
Hunger is a result of the greater problem of poverty the state currently faces, according to Cleath.
“In Pennsylvania, 13.6 percent of people were poor in 2014, and that has not changed from 2013,” she said. “These numbers are well above what they were prior to the great recession in 2008.”
Food aid, such as holiday food drives, is helpful, but not enough to end the problem of hunger as a whole, according to Cleath.
“What we need is to help prevent people from going hungry in the first place,” she said, “and that means ending all the forces that create poverty.”
She said children in the state face hunger at a higher rate than the rest of the population.
“We have one in five children in Pennsylvania who are hungry,” she said. “That means they are not getting the nutrition that they need for academic success and healthy development.”
Among things Cleath hopes the Wolf administration will also do are mandating school breakfast statewide, allowing food stamps to be accepted at farmers markets, getting the 15 percent who are eligible but do not receive food stamps to apply for the assistance, and simplifying the enrollment process for benefits programs.
Cleath said pressure must be put on the state legislature to create a budget that will fully fund programs which reduce poverty and hunger.