|Las Vegas (NM) Mayor Alfonso Ortiz meets with Rep. Lujan|
One our elected officials, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, circled the dates on his calendar when he first learned about the summit--and was able to juggle his schedule sufficiently not only to present a passionate address, but also to mingle with participants. Some were his constituents in the Third Congressional District, but many (like me) who were constituents of Rep. Lujan Grisham and Rep. Pearce. The issue has been on Rep. Lujan's radar. In September 2013, he sponsored a virtual Town Hall meeting on hunger and poverty in the Third Congressional District.
Here is an account of Rep. Lujan's remarks.
The congressman began his address by pointing out that this year marked the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty and the 51st anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s March on Washington. The greatest legacy of the two milestone events was that they brought attention to poverty, hunger and related issues, a situation that is very relevant in our times.
"I don't have to remind you of the statistics, but I am going to do anyway," said Rep. Lujan.. "Forty percent of New Mexicans who receive food assistance are under the age of 18, seven percent of them are under the age of 5, and thirteen percent of them are seniors--our grandparents...our parents. This myth that only those who are homeless are hungry is not right--these are our neighbors, or friends with whom we work every day."
There were also plenty of words of encouragement from Rep. Lujan.. "When I look across the room...I'm reminded by what Mother Teresa said, 'if you can't feed 100 people, then feed one'. That what you're doing. You're braaking the cycle.
Rep. Lujan also acknowledged that he was "preaching to the choir," but urged participants to contribute to shining a light on the problem so that it won't be ignored or swept under the rug. "We need to make sure that this is not kept a secret, not in New Mexico, not anywhere in the world."
"We have to find a way to break the cycle and we have to have the courage to stand up for our convictions and shine a light on the in recognizing that when several choose to keep a secret: that New Mexico's children are struggling, that New Mexico's seniors are struggling."
"In the United States of America, as we were reminded by President Johnson,and we are reminded by Martin Luther King, and we are reminded by the teachings of Mother Teresa, and now Pope Francis: We can't turn a blind eye," said Rep. Lujan. "The personal stories that we hear--share them. As soon as those stories disappear, those hungry children will disappear, those hungry seniors will disappear. Sometimes we'd rather close our eyes and not see what is happening around us. Let's keep our eyes wide open."
|A chat with Manuel Casias, Rev. Jack Bunting of St. Felix Pantry|
"The congressman--whose district includes Santa Fe, Farmington, Gallup, Las Vegas and other communities in northern New Mexico--also commended state and federal officials for expanding the summer lunch program in New Mexico. But also offed this caveat. "I I hope that you all remember that this is not just in the summer that kids are hungry."
The congressman also alluded to the debate on the Farm Bill over the past couple of years, and the controversy over the funding of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). He said the push in the House to cut benefits was a clear example that some people in Congress were putting blinders on their eyes and not seeing the true problem.
"When people and leaders are suggesting that we should cut programs that feed the most vulnerable, we should hold them accountable," said Rep. Lujan.
"Our Tea Party colleagues said they wanted to cut this program and they said we want to cut by $20 billion. [Other] colleagues came forward and said $20 billion is not enough, so they came up with $40 billion," the congressman added. "A $40 billion cut that would have devasted this program."
Rep. Lujan lauded Sen. Tom Udall, Sen. Martin Heinrich and the rest of the Senate for proposing and sticking to a much smaller cut ($8.6 billion in the final Farm Bill). "Thank goodness for the Senate did, they were able to push back," said the congressman.
A final word
"We're reminded by Dr. King as well that our lives begin to end when we stop talking about things that matter. This matters. We have a moral obligation. No one anywhere in the world should go hungry. In New Mexico, we're better than that. So thanks everyone here for making a difference in the lives of so many."
Comments from Others in House, Senate
I'm beginning with the prepared comments from Rep. Steve Pearce and Rep. Lujan Grisham because they also had views on the recent SNAP debate. (A coming blog post will incorporate the views of Ellen Teller from the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), who was also speaker at the event).
Rep. Lujan Grisham: 'I will continue to fight against cuts in SNAP'
Rep. Steve Pearce: 'Reform Nutrition Programs to Help Those Who Truly Need Them'
Sen. Tom Udall: Championing Initiatives to Help New Mexico
Sen. Martin Heinrich: Food Assistance is Critical to New Mexico Families
Food assistance programs are critical to New Mexico. This is why I voted to approve funding increases for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which benefits 443,000 households in our state...and the Supplemental Progrm for Women infants and children (WIC), which helped 64, 000 low-income women and children under the age of 5 in New Mexico...I know our work is not finished. Last year, over 150,000 children lived in a household that experienced food insecurity in our state..I remain committed to working with you to fight hunger, and I give thanks to the volunteers, faith based organizations, nonprofits and all those people who are here today to create a hunger-free New Mexico.