The federal government spends more than $40 billion a year helping feed low-income Americans, but advocates and government experts say many people are still not getting enough to eat.

Soup kitchens, food pantries and homeless shelters are turning away hungry people, they say, and hundreds of thousands of elderly Americans are malnourished."As we speak, millions of our fellow Americans are going hungry," said Rep. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., at a hearing Wednesday by the House Small Business Subcommittee on Regulation, which he chairs. "In our rich nation, with its extraordinary resources, we witness the tragedy of older people scrounging in Dumpsters for their next meal."

Eleanor M. Josaitis, associate director of Focus: HOPE, a civil and human rights organization in Detroit, said the low-income elderly are not getting enough protein in their diets and want processed American cheese back in the sacks of groceries that her organization distributes.

"If we had cheese, they could make cheese sandwiches, tuna casseroles," she told Wyden, plunking a brown box on the witness table and taking out a five-pound brick of cheese. "It helps people stretch their budgets."

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The cheese, a symbol of the federal government's surplus commodity giveaways of the 1980s, is no longer included in the truckloads of food distributed to anti-hunger programs even as the demand for nutrition assistance has grown.

Christine Vladimiroff, president and chief executive officer of Second Harvest, a Chicago-based network of 188 regional food banks, said local agencies are turning away hungry families because of a lack of food and money.

The more than 42,000 community agencies served by her network include food pantries, soup kitchens, elderly feeding sites and homeless shelters.

Vladimiroff said 46 percent of those agencies report they have had to ration food, cut their hours of operation and distribute pantry bags with fewer groceries.

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