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The current economic expansion is now the longest in U.S. history. However, despite this record-breaking economic growth, there is still hunger in this country. In January, the Tufts University Center on Hunger, Poverty and Nutrition Policy released a study that showed more than 30 million people experience hunger or "food insecurity" (lacking access to enough food to meet basic needs).

One reason that hunger persists, despite a robust economy, is that millions of people are no longer receiving food stamps. A recent study from the General Accounting Office found that food-stamp participation has declined by 27 percent during the past three and one-half years, a decrease of 7 million individuals.

The problem of hungry children is especially disturbing. Children account for about 50 percent of food stamp beneficiaries.

Last fall, a bipartisan group of senators and representatives introduced a bill in Congress called the Hunger Relief Act (HR 3192/S 1805). This act seeks to reinstate food stamps for legal immigrants, update food stamp program rules, and help ensure that food banks and other private charities have a reliable supply of food. Currently, the Hunger Relief Act has 131 cosponsors in the House of Representatives and 26 in the Senate.

Having provided medical care for 25 years, I've seen the faces of poverty. It is especially painful when I see children suffering due to inadequate nutrition. Reforming welfare should mean enabling people to become self-sufficient. In order to do this, they need sufficient nutrition. I urge you, as citizens of this prosperous nation, to support this act by contacting your senators and representatives and requesting their endorsement of the Hunger Relief Act this year.

Shelley Wood