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George McGovern and the Fight Against Hunger in America

October 22, 2012 at 12:42 PM

Senator George McGovern, who died Sunday, was one of the architects — along with Senator Robert Dole — of landmark 1977 legislation that largely created today’s SNAP (food stamp) program, which has played a pivotal role in making severe malnutrition relatively rare in the United States.

In the video below, which CBPP made in 2007 to mark the law’s 30th anniversary, McGovern described how he became a leader in the fight against hunger.  Here’s the relevant part of the transcript:

Senator McGovern: I was watching a documentary on CBS.  It was 1968 and I remember saying, “Why are they looking at hunger in the United States?”  The incident that caught my attention was they picked up on a little boy alongside of the room leaning against the wall…

-Dissolves into actual scene from the documentary-

CBS Documentary Interviewer: Well, when you get to school, what do you have to eat there?

Boy: Nothing.

Interviewer: You don’t have anything to eat when you’re at school?

Boy: Nothing.

Senator McGovern: The interviewer said to this boy, “What do you think when you stand here day after day, watching the other children eat and you can’t join with them?”  He said, “I’m ashamed.”

-Dissolves into actual scene from the documentary-

Boy: I’m ashamed. . . .

Interviewer: Why are you ashamed?

Boy: I don’t have any money.

Senator McGovern: I said to my family that was watching the documentary with me, “You know, it’s not that little boy who should be ashamed, it’s George McGovern, a United States Senator, a member on the Committee on Agriculture.”

So I went to the Senate the very next day and introduced a resolution to create what was the

Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, and for the next 10 years that committee led the way in this country in making sure every member of Congress, every American knew about hunger in this country.

Bob Dole was the ranking Republican on the committee, I was the chairman, and we worked hand-in-glove.  We didn’t play any partisan politics with this issue.