By SISTER PAT KEATING, OP
COLUMBIA — More than 150 people came together at Bethel AME Church on Oct. 17 for the “Ending Hunger in South Carolina” forum. Held in conjunction with Hunger Awareness Week, the event was planned by the South Carolina Anti-Hunger Network (SCAN). The group was formed in 1998 by a collaborative group of statewide organizations, including Catholic Charities. The mission of SCAN is to work to end hunger, poverty and malnutrition in South Carolina through advocacy and education.
Ten percent of all households in South Carolina are food insecure, the most recent term for not having enough food. The poverty rate in the state is 14 percent, and child poverty is 18 percent. However, 27 percent of children under age 5 live in poverty in South Carolina. These figures mirror the national average. Hunger in the United States has remained at the same level since 1995.
Catholic Charities USA reports that 73 percent of their agencies experienced large increases in requests for food between 1996 and 1999. In spite of this, there are 10 million fewer people in the country receiving food stamps since 1994. While some of this decline is due to the booming economy, about 50 percent of the decline is due to problems implementing the 1996 welfare law and the limits on eligibility established by welfare reform. Also, many of the working poor did not know they were eligible to receive food stamps.
South Carolina has a very large percentage of working poor families. Many work for minimum wage, have no benefits, have seasonal and part-time jobs. Only 62 percent of people eligible are presently receiving food stamps.
Fortunately, some changes are being made to make the Food Stamp Program more accessible to people who need food for their families. A new electronic card is being implemented for people to use to avoid some of the stigma attached to using the stamps. Congress just passed some changes in the eligibility criteria for food stamps.
Speakers at the conference from both state and national government asserted that every effort is being made to eliminate hunger in America. And Gov. Jim Hodges has signed a proclamation to develop a plan to end hunger in South Carolina by the year 2005.