Count the Omnibus budget and spending bill Congress passed at the end of March among the many surprises to come out of Washington these days. Filled with domestic spending increases not thought possible until they emerged as a counterweight to the boost in defense spending the Administration wanted, the Atlantic called it A Domestic Budget to Make Barak Obama Proud. These included increases of $610 million in funding for Head Start, billions more for child care, and a rejection of efforts to eliminate funding for legal services, the National Endowment for the Arts, and other programs
These impressive victories on behalf of the most vulnerable and voiceless are a great example of an often overlooked law of politics: some things are just not possible until they happen. Failure of imagination is always the greatest risk. Anti-hunger and anti-poverty advocates must do more than defend existing programs and advocate incremental fixes. Rather we must make the case for transformational change – ending hunger, eradicating poverty – even if it comes with a significant price tag. That the road to such change is long and filled with potholes argues for starting down it sooner rather than later.
We learned that at Share Our Strength when creating the No Kid Hungry campaign. Putting a stake in the ground around ending childhood hunger, as ambitious as it seemed at the time, yielded unprecedented financial and organizational support, which in turn enabled historic results. We’re not across the finish line yet, but participation in school breakfast meals is at an all-time high, and childhood hunger at a record low.
Successes at the state level point to federal opportunities. As just one example, look at the role Maryland Meals for Achievement played increasing participation in school breakfast programs. A national American Meals For Achievement program could provide funds to states to pay for costs and incentives not covered by school meal reimbursements. It could leverage local innovation and public-private partnerships to make school breakfast accessible to every child who needs it, and help No Kid Hungry across the finish line.
Big challenges require big solutions, which in turn require vision, courage, and imagination.. It may not seem practical in our current political climate – but the Omnibus spending bill signed into law reminds us that “politically practical” is overrated. America’s fundamental goodness has not evaporated over the course of a few short years. Nor has America’s generosity. That they remain untapped is a failure of its leaders, not its people. If the people persist, the leaders will follow.