Their stories are always on my mind. As a lifelong anti-poverty and anti-hunger advocate, it’s hard for me to forget about the children who wake up hungry and, as a result, struggle to learn. Or the parents who work two or even three jobs to try to make ends meet. Or the seniors who have to choose whether to pay for prescriptions or food.
According to the Food Research and Action Center, South Carolina is among the states with the highest percentages of people not able to afford food. People of all ages, races and ethnicities, and political views, suffer from hunger and its consequences, including worse health and lesser educational outcomes. More than 280,000 S.C. children — more than double the population of Columbia — experience poverty.
On Saturday, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott will host a poverty forum in Columbia for Republican presidential candidates. This provides a great opportunity to ignite the conversation around concrete and comprehensive approaches to improve the lives of South Carolinians and millions more across the country who struggle to get by. The forum, along with debates and campaign events, will provide exceptional avenues to make ending hunger and poverty and increasing opportunity a higher political priority.
We know the steps it takes to end hunger and poverty, but implementing them requires political will.
For instance, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and such child-nutrition programs as WIC, school meals and summer meals ensure hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians get the nutrition they need. Participation in these proven programs can be increased through greater outreach and education and by removing barriers in the application process.
Yet we need more than nutrition programs. We need an economy that works for all.
South Carolina and the nation are plagued by too few jobs, stagnant wages, inadequate public investments and inadequate public safety-net programs. While there has been progress, it has been too slow.
Jobs must be created. Wages must be raised. And prosperity must be shared. We need greater investments in public programs that support work, health and economy security, such as tax credits for low-income working families and protecting and improving Social Security and Supplemental Security Income for seniors and people with disabilities.
These solutions require strong commitment and leadership. As presidential candidates flock to South Carolina, I hope the struggles of low- and middle-income people will always be top of mind. There can no longer be excuses for leaving any — let alone millions of — Americans behind.
Director, S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center