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Originally published April 18, 2013 at 5:13 PM | Page modified April 18, 2013 at 5:12 PM

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Guest: Cuts to the state Food Assistant Program hurt hungry kids, state’s education goals

Cuts to the state Food Assistance Program hurt kids the most.

Special to The Times

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I WAS raised by a single mother in South Central Los Angeles in the early 1960s. She worked long, hard hours to put food on the table. Paying the bills was always a struggle, and my family wasn’t alone. My friends from school and teammates on the football team often went hungry.

Now it’s 2013, but hunger hasn’t been tamed. Not down in South Central and not up here in Seattle and Renton. It hurts school children and single moms, working families and senior citizens.

Your neighbors. Your friends. Maybe even your family.

In Washington state, 1 in 4 kids lives in a household that struggles to put food on the table on a regular basis. Too many kids go to school on empty stomachs.

Too many moms and dads are working long hours at jobs that don’t pay enough to let them get ahead of rent and the bill collectors.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Washington state led the nation when it established the State Food Assistance program back in 1997. For the last 15 years, this program has effectively and efficiently provided the neediest families an extra boost when they have needed it most.

Last year, funding toward the State Food Assistance program was cut in half. It wasn’t much to begin with. So, instead of some fresh fruits and vegetables, 31,000 people getting this help are eating more canned beans and Top Ramen.

These cuts hurt our children most.

Hungry children are more likely to repeat grades, exhibit aggressive, hyperactive or impulsive behavior, suffer from anxiety or depression, have lower math and reading scores or need special-education services.

We cannot allow an entire generation of our children to be plagued by these problems.

Good parenting, great schools and supportive communities are all crucial to ensuring the success of a child. But even the best parents, most innovative schools and welcoming communities cannot overcome the burden hunger places on a child.

Blaming the parents is wrong. Being poor is not a crime and not a moral failing. I know family after family of folks who work harder than anybody I’ve met, waiting tables 12 hours a day or hauling luggage around Sea-Tac no matter how bad their backs hurt.

We don’t have a shortage of hard work and suffering. What we do have is a shortage of food in the tummies of small children, grandmothers and disabled veterans.

We can do better.

That’s why I’m pushing hard to restore full funding to the state Food Assistance Program this year.

Washington leads the world in software development, aerospace and engineering because we have a well-educated and hardworking population.

If we want to continue to lead in the global market and support economic recovery, we must first ensure that our children are ready to learn when they walk into our classrooms. For a child to be ready to learn, that child must first be well-fed.

If we continue to send thousands of children to school without the fuel they need for economic success, we continue to let the opportunity gap swallow up a rising share of our state’s economic potential.

Our quality of life depends on our ability to make sure kids have what they need to grow up healthy and strong. It’s time to end hunger and build healthy families for the future.

Right now, my fellow lawmakers from across the state and I have joined together to support fully funding the state Food Assistance Program.

But we can’t do this alone. If good people say nothing, food assistance could get cut from the budget.

Please join our fight by contacting your representatives in Olympia. Tell them that no child in Washington should go hungry.

State Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle, is majority caucus chair.

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