Des Moines “Hunger Clock” Billboard Blasts Senators Ernst and Grassley for Denying $79 Million in Food Aid to Iowa


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Clock Shows 59 Days Since House Passed Bill with Food Boost


One in Five Iowa Residents Now Food Insecure; State’s Hunger Rate Has Tripled During Pandemic
Advocates Blast Senators for “Playing Politics While Their Constituents Go Hungry”
 “Food Delayed Is Food Denied” and Could Lead to More Pandemic Deaths
Advocates Call on Public to Help Pressure the Senate by Signing Petition or Donating

Hunger Free America, a nationwide nonpartisan, nonprofit group, is now running a digital billboard ad in Des Moines to blast Iowa Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley for enabling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to block more than $16 billion in food aid to struggling Americans, including more than $79 million for hungry Iowans.

The billboard features a “hunger clock” showing that, as of July 14, it has been 59 days since the Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Heroes Act, which includes a large-scale increase in domestic hunger funding. While most Senate Democrats support this increase in food aid, Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican Senate majority (including Senators Ernst and Grassley) have, to date, refused to even consider this bill.

An analysis of federal data by Northwestern University found that 19.2 percent of Iowa residents were food insecure in April and May of this year, unable to afford an adequate supply of food, which is more than triple Iowa’s food insecurity rate for 2018.

The billboard below is now running in Des Moines alongside I-235 near Euclid.

Iowa Billboard_59 days.png

Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, said: “It is simply unconscionable that Senators Ernst and Grassley are playing politics with food aid while one in five of their own constituents struggle against hunger. Food delayed is food denied. Not only would the food support they are denying feed hungry Iowans, but it would also preserve or create local jobs and thereby help the economy get back on its feet. It is simply shocking that, by his own admission, McConnell is blocking these and other vital aid measures in that bill because he says he doesn’t want to help ‘blue states.’ It is equally shocking that Senators Ernst and Grassley have not done more to push this food assistance as Iowa families go hungry.”

The Heroes Act passed by the House provides a 15 percent increase in benefits for SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program). That hike would increase the average SNAP benefit nationwide by about 20 cents per meal, from the current level of $1.34 per meal to about $1.54 per meal. The bill also includes a $150 million increase in funding to charitable food banks, soup kitchens, and food pantries, many of which are faith based. Additionally, the bill boosts nutrition support for low-income pregnant women and infants, provides extra food help to children whose school meals programs have been closed during the pandemic, and reimburses school districts for extra food distribution costs during this crisis.

The Heroes Act also includes funding for other, non-food-related actions that could significantly reduce hunger, such as: another round of stimulus checks to millions of eligible Americans; an extended increase in unemployment benefits; suspended interest and payments on federal student loans, rent and mortgage assistance; hazard pay for essential workers; and aid to state and local governments. McConnell, speaking on a conservative radio program, derided the bill as “blue state bailouts,” despite the massive amount of food and money that it would provide to his home state of Kentucky, as well as to other states like Texas that usually vote Republican.

Even before the pandemic, polling conducted by Hunger Free America found that a large majority of voters of both parties, in all states, supported hikes in federal government spending to reduce hunger.

The current hunger emergency will also make the health crisis worse. Hunger decreases immunity from diseases, and thus makes it more likely for hungry people to both contract and transmit COVID-19 and other diseases. Because junk food is usually cheaper than healthier food, food insecurity also increases the likelihood of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, and other conditions, which, in turn, make it more probable that people will die from COVID-19 and other related ailments.

Continued Berg, “Let’s be clear: this delay in food aid may lead to even more Americans unnecessarily dying. The opposition of Congressional Republicans and President Trump to increasing domestic food support during the worst health and hunger crises in modern times is not only morally outrageous and economically self-defeating, but it is also, frankly, dumb politics. Once the American people learn about this food aid hold up, they will be incensed. That is why we urge the public to help us ramp up pressure on Senate Republicans to pass this food assistance immediately.”

Hunger Free America urged the public to go to the website to help in one, or all, of the following three ways:

  1. Sign a petition to the U.S. Senate asking it to pass the food aid bill immediately.
  2. Donate to increase the number of such billboards in Kentucky, Iowa, and other states or donate to support the other vital work of Hunger Free America.
  3. Share their stories of how the delay in food help is worsening hunger in their own communities.

“Only people power can force an end to this deadly political grandstanding,” concluded Berg.