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Summit Agenda

Opening Ceremonies

Breakout Sessions

Breakout Summaries

Perspectives for Future Actions

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Moore speech

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Foreman speech


Perspectives for Future Actions

Mayor David W. Moore
Health and Human Services Subcommittee, U.S. Conference of Mayors

(Speech text is verbatim.)

Thank you very much. Good morning to all you. Oh, my goodness. Good morning.

Thank you very much. I mean, I am already feeling a little bit uncomfortable up here.

When Bill started talking this morning he quickly told us that there would be some redundancy in our presentations this morning and when Paul came up next to speak I understood that, but when Ed finished, I began to wonder why am I here.

You know, what point can I share after hearing all of that, and I began to look at Ed a little bit quizzical from the side and wondering if he would catch my [expression]—or I would get in his peripheral vision and say, "Stop doing my speech."

But it is good to be here. I am very proud of the fact to be the Mayor of the City of Beaumont, Texas. The hub city of Southeast Texas. And also to represent the United States Conference of Mayors. It is good in a sense to have the opportunity to represent our Health and Human Services Subcommittee of the U.S. Conference of Mayors because I get a chance to come and meet with people like yourself and to hear from you and to share with you a little bit about what I might feel is a dilemma in our country.

However, you know, I would like to also explain that in telling you that I am from the State of Texas, I add proof to the fact that things do grow large in Texas.

And also that my city is located on the right side of Texas, literally the right side of Texas.

I have been asked to share just a little bit with you about a Mayor's perspective in regards to hunger.

Last evening after arriving in the city, I thought I should do some firsthand things like go out and have a good meal. I had a wonderful nutritious meal. However, I must go back and talk to them about the size of the portions. They forced me to eat more than I should have.

And then I began to talk to myself a little bit about the fact—now physical activity is very, very important. I agree with that. And this morning as I got up and took my vitamins to get started and started doing my exercise, and that doggone phone kept stopping me. I tell you. So I made a very good effort to get out and do those things.

Now I know that time is somewhat limited so I will kind of get into a little bit of what I want to talk about or repeat a little bit about what has already been talked about.

The face of hunger in our communities is something that I, as a Mayor, see day in and day out. One of the things about it is it is nothing that I can run from.

And I cannot simply tell you I am from the government and I am here to help you. They were all here yesterday. And I understood from watching the local news media, it was a very exciting day for you all.

But, you know, I think—if you stand up here and you look at me—you know I am not the poster child for hunger. My mother gave me some very early advice early in life. She said, "Young man, let me tell you something. You can be choicy about what you eat if you want to but if you be choicy you will have a big decision to make. If you are not choicy you will never have a hungry day in your life."

Well, I have had very few hungry days, except for a couple of days in college, but I am in the position to be able to do something about my hunger and about my choices, and there are many others who do not have the same control. They are basically put at the mercy of various programs. They are put in situations that they really cannot control. We find ourselves wondering exactly where we are as a country.

Hunger kind of manifests itself, sometimes known as a temporary food shortage. Food insecurity which has been referenced today. People not knowing where the next meal is going to come from.

I understand skipping a few meals and I understand the great difficulties that can be caused damaging your health and your own personal self-esteem and when you do not know where that meal is coming from next.

I will give you a couple of examples. As stated previously, hungry children have the most discipline problems in school, in our school systems, and create other problems.

Senior citizens facing food insecurity on a monthly basis are often sicker and they struggle with depression and isolation between having to make a choice between the medicine they must purchase for their health and the food they need to sustain their health.

Or many people classified as the working poor. They live from paycheck to paycheck to basically survive but there is no back fall in case there is an emergency.

Families can suffer from food insecurity from almost an overnight occurrence. An illness, car repair, an unusually high electric bill can put the family at risk. You may say that is a little bit extreme but that is so true. That is how tight the margin is for many families today.

There are many causes of hunger. The immediate remedy for Mayors was to focus on short-term relief unfortunately. However, we must also examine the long-term and the permanent solutions that address the root causes of the problem.

You know, I just want to share something with you and maybe if you remember nothing else, you might remember this: There is a young—well, it is a lady—she is a young lady that works in our community. And this is somewhat a personal testimony of her's. I just want to share it with you.

It says, "Recently at a nutrition center or some other place, I was handing out lunches for a Saturday afternoon lunch program. The line was long and when I opened the door I was overrun. I asked them to please get in lines and there was no need to push and shove. There was enough for everyone but the pushing and shoving continued. I asked one of the members in the crowd, 'Why are you all running over each other just to get to a hotdog, a piece of fruit, chips and dessert?' And his response to me was, 'Lady, if this were the only food you were going to get today you would push and shove too to make sure that you got one.'"

As long as, she said, she has worked in this business for over 20 years, that one question brought home to her the reality of hunger, the desperation of hunger, and the sorrow of hunger.

And that is what I see day in and day out, and I am sure many of you also work with and try to get resolved.

One of the goals of the 196 Welfare Reform Act was to reduce expenditures for the Federal Food Stamp Program by $27.7 billion from 1997 to the year 2002. Since 1994 the number of Texans receiving food stamps has dropped almost by half, far out pacing any drop in poverty or employment or unemployment.

Experts tell me that confusion over the new regulation and the time limited benefits associated with the program discourages many Texans from either participating or understanding their eligibility for the program.

And, quite frankly, an unintended consequence of program changes intended primarily as budget-cutting measures to reduce the value of the food stamp benefits for low-income families has been that individuals who are qualified for food stamps have been dropped from the rolls, and over half of the savings in the welfare bill came from the Food Stamp Program cuts.

Now I believe in every program there should be a balance of the burden with a benefit to those who truly need it. I do not necessarily believe that we in government should be trying to balance, you know, our budgets or our general fund campaigns, whatever the case may be, by taking food out of the mouths of children.

Now the message has not reached those families. Even if a family loses its temporary emergency needs in terms of giving them benefits, benefits due to increased earnings in the Food Stamp Program really have not happened.

Even though we are experiencing a great robust economy, there is great conversation about it, there is new created jobs all over the place, those jobs are basically low-wage jobs and are not sufficient to take care of family in its entirety.

Now, in Texas, we remain by high standards a very traditional State and very proud. But, you know, we do have some woes that we must work through. In fact, when I looked at a percentage of 1998—looking at the poverty numbers, we had an increase of like 16 percent. Also, society in general must realize that moving a family from welfare to work does not guarantee self-sufficiency.

Now I am a firm believer that able-bodied people should go to work and I believe that everybody should do their absolute very best to take care of their families. But, also, I am very realistic and very practical about what it is they do and how far it will go.

The working poor will always be in danger of experiencing temporary hunger crisis when an unexpected expense arises as we talked about earlier.

Now, as a Mayor, I am very sensitive to the plight of most of the vulnerable populations within my particular community, especially the elderly and children.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors 1999 Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness in American Cities was a 26-city survey. It found that requests for food assistance by the elderly have increased by nine percent over the past year.

Now as a Mayor, being in a very different elected position from a lot of other elected individuals, I am somewhat on the front line. I feel, and most mayors feel across this country, I am where the rubber meets the road.

I am the individual, if I go to church, if I am going to a special event, if I am traveling through the community, I encounter people that suffer from hunger. I encounter programs that suffer from a lack of funding and I also encounter people who really in their heart want to make a difference.

Now there is a great risk out there for seniors. You know, it is a really tough deal when you watch people as you grow up put into positions of being on fixed income. Once they get to that point, the reality of their ability to survive and the choices that they have to make really touches home.

And then when you think about the insecurity factor that could possibly arise, here are people making decisions, basically not eating as they should for fear of running out, basically not purchasing their medicine or not getting all their medicine because they fear they will not have enough money to buy enough to food to survive for the balance of that particular month.

Now I am a firm believer that, you know, before our country became so institutionalized with organizations and activities that are supposed to provide all the care, we kind of took care of each other and we looked after each other, and that has changed in some regards and it has gotten better in others.

It is one of those painful things that you look at and, as stated earlier, when people fail to provide themselves the proper nutrition, they bring on other problems that stagger their lives in such a way that they never recover. And that is part of the pain that I look at day in and day out.

What they experience is depression and isolation, and often the older Americans on fixed incomes do not feel like they are living the American dream any longer.

Having older relatives and understanding that plight, you know, it gets closer to home with me and going to the community and looking at people living in conditions that are not desirable by any standards should embrace us all and should engage us all to do something different about it.

Children who experience hunger experience a number of physical behavior problems, including headaches, fatigue, frequent colds, trouble concentration on school work, and disruptive behaviors.

One thing about a child, even a child at a very young age, they have a lot of pride and they do not want to tell folks what is bothering them that day. So many things are interpreted different but we also come to understand it is due to that pride that they will not tell someone, "I have not eaten today."

I am a big supporter of Head Start programs and I am a big supporter of free lunch and a big supporter of after school programs because then we know that we are doing our small part to help children.

In case I have not been subtle enough, and contrary to what some of you might believe, hunger does exist in the State of Texas, but there are also solutions in the State as well. In the wake of welfare reform, the TEXCAP program, which utilizes a system of regional food banks as a distribution vehicle to get food to those in need, is a good program.

In addition to receiving State funds, these food banks may receive donations from nongovernmental sources. However, while TEXCAP is recognized as a nationwide model for the most effective and efficient distribution of USDA commodities to those in need, it has not proven to be the answer to all of our problems.

As I previously noted, poverty remains a concern in our State. As of September 1999, Texas had over $175 million in unspent Federal welfare assistance funds. I know many excellent providers in our community who could put that money to good use, and I am sure that other communities might feel the same way.

But it sometimes feels as though States spend too much time and effort reducing the welfare rolls without examining the consequences on a case by case basis as I mentioned.

In Beaumont we have several programs available to those who need food assistance. The Southeast Texas Food Bank serves eight counties in Southeast Texas. They distribute food to 96 local nonprofit agencies, including 42 in Beaumont. Each month Beaumont agencies serve over 100,000 meals made with food received from the food bank reaching 1,700 families.

In the last 3 years the food distribution has tripled to 1.5 million pounds per year. Solid proof that we are not doing the best but we can possibly address the problem of hunger to a greater extent.

There are other programs and other social service activities that you all have in your community, be it the Salvation Army where we utilize our emergency shelter grant or be it the rescue mission where people start up their own causes and we try to benefit them that way, or neighbors helping neighbors.

Some other places: A soup kitchen in Beaumont that serves over 200 people per day as well as 120 more delivered to their homes. This program relies on generous donations as well as assistance from the city, most in the form of community-development block grant funds and low-cost lease for that facility.

I often drive by this soup kitchen on my way to city hall and every morning—I have a very early meeting on Tuesday— I make it a point to go by there just to see if things have changed. Yet, the lines are still long, and it is a very painful remembrance or a reminder that there are those in our community who need help.

The churches in the Beaumont community have also increased their involvement by organizing meal days. Working together to ensure that at least one of them is open for assistance each day of the week. They have been extremely helpful in galvanizing the community and providing spiritual and nutritional food for our citizens' needs.

Now the root causes of hunger must be addressed, but the immediate nature of the problem compels society to establish these networks of emergency food-assistance programs.

As mayors, we see the harmful effect of hunger in our community firsthand and daily. Because of our local providers, which are usually the last line of defense, we often spend most of our resources on the immediate solution, finding them a meal.

A hungry child will not wait until a parent learns the skills to get a higher paying job. Even then we find that we do not have the resources to meet all the needs on a daily basis. Support at the State and Federal level for our local programs is the most efficient way that I know of to attack the problems of hunger.

Only by assisting each family on an individual basis will we ensure that the neediest and most helpless Americans receive the most basic human need, that being food. Food is a very basic, yet most essential, ingredient for survival and also for the foundation on which to build a higher quality of life.

I have enjoyed the time spent here this morning sharing with you just a little bit about what we try to do, but I guess the bigger question is what is—what will all of us do to fight this monster known as hunger.

Everybody needs an opportunity to have a choice and a chance to change the direction of their lives. If you are hungry, if you have headaches, if you are tired, if you are exhausted, if you feel isolated, that choice is very, very difficult.

I would like to commend everyone who helped put this together because the information shared here should create a greater awareness that we all can take back to our respective communities. Elected officials can take and put into practice some of the things that can make a difference in their local communities. But, most important, let's not forget that the face of hunger can affect all of us.

Thank you very much.