Giving and Leading: Childhood Hunger

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The Arizona Fair Share Education Fund released a new report: “Childhood Hunger in America’s Suburbs: The Changing Geography of Poverty.” It’s the second annual report that details the changing geography of childhood hunger at a time of growing suburban poverty. Arizona Fair Share Education Fund State Organizer Chris Destiche will tell us more.

TED SIMONS: Tonight's edition of Arizona Giving and Leading looks at childhood hunger. The Arizona Fair-share Education Fund today released a new report, "Childhood Hunger in America's Suburbs: The Changing Geography of Poverty." Here with the details is Arizona fair share's Chris Destish. Thanks for joining us.

CHRIS DESTICHE: Good to be here.

TED SIMONS: Geography of U.S. childhood hunger is changing. Explain, please.

CHRIS DESTICHE: Yes. So basically, from the time of the great recession as we like to call it, up until now, the location and concentration of hunger and poverty has been shifting. We traditionally think of it, I know when I was a kid I actually didn't even think of it as something that applied to America, but it really does. Usually, we traditionally think of it as something that affects urban areas and maybe rural communities. But increasingly it's moving into the suburbs, into the working class since about 2008.

TED SIMONS: So it's increasing in the suburbs over towns and rural areas. Why?

CHRIS DESTICHE: There's a number of ideas about why. A big thing was the great recession, especially in Phoenix, it knocked people out of their jobs, a lot of people were buying houses that they really couldn't afford, not through any fault of their own, sub-prime mortgages and their end result was a lot of parents were having to choose between, you know, paying their utility bill and putting food on the table.

TED SIMONS: And we're talking two times increase as opposed to urban areas and rural areas.

CHRIS DESTICHE: Yeah, exactly. In the Phoenix metro area actually since 2000, there's been a 16% increase in food insecurity among strictly suburban children.

TED SIMONS: So there's so many ways we can go with this. The impact of just the increasing number of poor people in America? How does that factor into all of this?

CHRIS DESTICHE: Majorly. Brandeis University actually released an independent study showing that due to food insecurity specifically among children, we're losing about $167 billion of economic productivity and that's due to things like preventable healthcare costs, lost economic productivity, job loss, poor education outcomes so more money going into education that shouldn't be needed really, but the main idea is that when kids don't eat, when they're hungry, they don't pay attention, they have trouble listening in school. And if they're not listening, they're not learning and if they're not learning, they struggle in school and if they struggle in school, they struggle in life.

TED SIMONS: I was going to say, back to the suburb aspect of this, I would imagine a lot of folks in the suburbs think yeah hunger's a problem. Somewhere else, though, not here. Does that factor into this as well?

CHRIS DESTICHE: Oh, yes, definitely. The main goal of fair share's childhood hunger campaign is to show people that hunger is not something that is far off. It's something that's really in every American community now and it's not something that someone else should deal with. We should all come together as an American community to deal with the issue.

TED SIMONS: The perceptions of childhood hunger need to change. Explain.

CHRIS DESTICHE: Exactly. So the perception is that it's just an urban phenomenon, that it doesn't exist in the suburbs where we live like our neighborhood. But really it does. People who are food insecure often, there's pride that goes along with it. Don't want to admit that they're not being fed properly, kids don't want to admit that they use snap and wic and the national school lunch program which are really great programs that need funding but, you know, it's a touchy subject.

TED SIMONS: And as far as policies that need to change as well, what do you got in mind?

CHRIS DESTICHE: Well, there's a lot of like in Phoenix particularly there's a lot of really great nonprofit work, St. Mary's food bank alliance does a lot but it's just private interests are not enough to cover the issue. So what we need is just more funding for these programs and increased access to them.

TED SIMONS: Let's talk about some of these programs. National school lunch program. It's a $12.6 billion program. Is it getting the job done?

CHRIS DESTICHE: It is in a lot of cases but because of the kind of strict requirements for the program itself, a lot of people who need it don't qualify.

TED SIMONS: School breakfast program. That's $3.5 million right there. Is that effective? Is it working?

CHRIS DESTICHE: It's very effective. One of the speakers at my news conference this morning talked about how she had a child, when she worked back in the '90s for a public school, she had a child that would come to her and ask her for food almost every single day because he just wasn't getting fed. And the program went into place basically and he's excelling in school now, he's not falling asleep during class, he's a 4th grader now. She recently moved to edgecare Arizona, which is this new pretty fancy childhood education facility, it's really great. But back when she was at the public schools, poverty and just hunger was rampant among the kids and she couldn't do anything about it. She didn't have enough money to feed all these children.

TED SIMONS: Yeah. You mentioned snap, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, that gets 79 close to $80 billion. We've only got about 30 seconds or so left. If you want folks to understand one thing about childhood hunger in America, in Arizona, what do they need to know?

CHRIS DESTICHE: Well, specifically in Arizona, the rates of childhood hunger are 28%. That means that almost 1 in 3 kids is going every night, has the possibility of going to sleep hungry. And as I stated earlier, $167 billion lost. So if we can put money in at the beginning, we'll get money out in the end.

TED SIMONS: All right. It's good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

CHRIS DESTICHE: Good to be here, thank you.

TED SIMONS: Friday on "Arizona Horizon", it's the Journalists' Roundtable. We'll discuss the latest intrigue involving the Corporation Commission. And the secretary of state gets involved in Arizona's legislative redistricting maps. Those stories and more on the Journalists' Roundtable. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

VIDEO: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Chris Destiche: Arizona Fair Share Education Fund State Organizer

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