How Congress can fight hunger and support America’s ‘grandfamilies’

Alice Carter knows that hunger hurts. An unemployed grandmother in Cheyenne, Wyo., she stepped up to raise her two grandchildren on her own without help. He recently told me about a time when he only had an orange someone had given him to feed him. Not just for one meal. But for a few meals and for days.

Carter is one of more than 25 million people in the United States who reported last month that they were food insecure, meaning they sometimes or often did not have enough to eat.

Her story is all too common and an example of a deeply troubling trend in our nation’s losing battle against hunger. More than 2.5 million children in the United States are raised in “grandparent” households, or households where the primary caregivers are not parents. Almost by default, these families, often headed by grandparents but also aunts and uncles, cousins ​​and even close family friends, need special care and extra support. But a disproportionate number of them go hungry. As more than 250,000 children in the United States lose a parent or primary caregiver to COVID-19, the number of grandmothers in our country will continue to grow. We must commit to ensuring that hunger does not grow with them.

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My organization, Generations United, released our annual report on the state of grandmothers this month. This year’s report focuses exclusively on how and why hunger and grandmothers are so intertwined. Unfortunately, we had a good reason for such a focus. A quarter of grandparent-headed households experienced food insecurity in 2019-2020, more than twice the national rate. The rate of food insecurity among elderly (aged 60+) grandmothers and grandmother-headed households with grandchildren and parents is three times higher than similar households without children.

Let me be clear. Grandmothers are the best option for children who cannot be raised by their own parents. Research shows that, compared to children in foster care with non-relatives, children raised by relatives have better mental and behavioral health outcomes, greater stability, and deeper roots. They feel loved.

Then why do so many grandmothers not have enough to eat? Our report found that this is often because caregivers have taken on this role out of the blue and haven’t planned for the costs of raising a child beyond their medication or rent. In addition, more than half of grandmothers are located in southern states, where food insecurity rates are highest, and a large number live in rural areas, where food sources and transportation options may be scarce. Grandmothers are also disproportionately people of color who suffer adverse health outcomes, including food insecurity, systemic racism, and discrimination.

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In September, the Biden administration released the first national strategy to fight hunger, aiming to end it entirely within a decade. We endorse many of the recommendations in that report, from expanding free school meals to restoring a more generous child tax credit to help all families avoid the pitfalls of hunger. We were especially pleased to see the report’s recommendations tailored specifically to grandparents and children in “kinship care,” such as improving communication with grandparents raising grandchildren to maximize enrollment in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for grandparent-led home care. less than half of the farms. who are eligible for SNAP (link) – and increasing funding for nutrition programs under the Older Americans Act.

Given the pressing and unique challenges grandmothers face, we need to make a difference now. Expanding Family Navigator programs will connect more grandmothers with food and nutrition assistance, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), that they may not know about or have difficulty accessing. The USDA and state health agencies should prioritize this support for more grandmothers by creating a child-only SNAP benefit based on the child’s need rather than household income, and by providing automatic access to free school meals. Ensuring that outreach program materials meet standards of diversity, equity, and inclusion will maximize their impact for those most in need.

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As families across America prepare to enjoy their Thanksgiving gifts, it’s incumbent upon all of us to remember the children whose grandparents can only afford to feed oranges off someone else’s plate, if at all. A grandparent or other close relative who steps in to raise a child when a parent is unable to do so represents the best of humanity. Instead, we owe them our best, and that starts with making sure every grandmother can put enough food on the table to help children grow and thrive.

Donna Batts is the executive director of Generations United. Twitter: @GensUnited.

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