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Welfare Reform Has the Potential to Increase Hunger

As deadlines for federal welfare reform approach later this year, leaders of hunger-relief organizations expect the ranks of the hungry to increase.

"We're very concerned, because we already have a great need without the full impact of welfare reform, in very prosperous times," says Christine Vladimiroff, president of Second Harvest in Chicago, a national network of food banks. "If the economy should go sour at the same time that time limits kick in, we will be very hard pressed to meet demands through the charitable sector."

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Ellen Parker, executive director of Project Bread in Boston, notes that more than half the savings from welfare reform over the next five years will come out of federal nutrition programs. Most legal immigrants have been made ineligible for federal food stamps, she explains, although some state legislatures have passed special supplements for state-funded food stamps.

In addition, Ms. Parker says, under welfare reform food stamps will not be automatically increased every year. She stresses the need to make political leaders and the public aware of the possible effects of malnutrition on children. "They develop really quickly in the first few years, and if they're not getting enough to eat, they're not developing properly," she says.

At Project Soup, a food pantry in Somerville, Mass., assistant manager Sandy Harris says, "We will really feel the brunt of the reform. We hear it a little bit now. People say, 'They cut my food stamps.' "

Ms. Vladimiroff emphasizes that she does not want a return to old welfare policies. But, she says, "We need to begin to measure the intended consequences of welfare reform and the unintended consequences. Some people at the top of the list have moved from welfare to work. But we also need to look at people who need skill training to be sure we are investing in them now and see that the jobs they get will lift them out of poverty. Working full time with no benefits oftentimes leaves a person in a more fragile position than welfare."

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