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Sunday, March 3, 2024
March 3, 2024

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In Our View: Examine food insecurity in nation and priorities

The Columbian

Hunger is not “somebody else’s” problem in the United States. It impacts every community, making it an issue that should concern all Americans.

Such concern is evident locally. In 2023, the Clark County Food Bank provided assistance to 135,000 people — a 20 percent increase from the previous year — and the need is continuing.

“I’m inspired that there are so many people who care and that want to be a part of the solution,” Alan Hamilton, Clark County Food Bank president, said this week at the nonprofit’s annual meeting. “I’m also sad a little bit that the need is as big as it is. So many people don’t know where they’re going to get food tomorrow.”

That is one reason a vote Wednesday in the U.S. House of Representatives was important. The Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act of 2024 (H.R. 7024) passed 357 to 70 with broad support from members of both parties.

The legislation would expand eligibility for the Child Tax Credit among low-income families — a priority for Democrats. It also would address Republican interests by bolstering certain business tax credits that were limited in 2017 in order to cap the cost of tax cuts under President Donald Trump.

Most important, those actions would be funded by winding down the Employee Retention Credit, a COVID-era program providing incentives for employers to retain workers. That program has been beset with fraudulent claims, and nonpartisan analysts say its closure will save enough to pay for the new programs.

The Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act is not a done deal; strong resistance is expected in the Senate. But it provides an opportunity to examine the issue of food insecurity in a nation that is among the world’s wealthiest. And it provides an opportunity to examine our nation’s priorities.

Expanding the Child Tax Credit by increasing monthly payments and making more families eligible has proven to effectively reduce child poverty.

In 2021, when a COVID-era expansion was in effect, the child poverty rate fell to a historic low of 5.2 percent; when the tax credit was allowed to lapse at the end of that year, poverty rates quickly increased. Analysts suggest that H.R. 7024 would have a similar impact, lifting 400,000 children out of what is considered poverty in the first year alone.

For a vast majority of people, rising above the poverty line does not mean the ability to purchase a fancy TV or dine out more often. A Bureau of Labor Statistics study of the previous increase determined, “For each $100 of imputed CTC payment, our models show that families spent $75, mainly on food ($28), housing ($31), and child-related goods and services ($15).” Other studies echoed findings that most of the money was spent on necessities or to help pay off debts.

Arguments can be made that Americans should have the ability to lift themselves out of poverty rather than relying on government largesse. But children who grow up destitute are more likely to increase the future costs we all bear for health care, law enforcement and social services.

An earlier reduction in the Child Tax Credit is not the sole cause of food insecurity. Food prices have remained high following a surge of inflation in 2021 and 2022, and quickly rising housing costs and health care costs have put pressure on family budgets.

But when Congress has an opportunity to rekindle a program that is proven to reduce hunger, it should seize it. It is, indeed, sad that the Clark County Food Bank and similar organizations are necessary in our community.