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Polar Vortex and food stamp cuts create perfect storm of hunger

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The freezing temperatures across the country mean higher heating costs for everyone. Many low-income families are struggling with this increase in prices. They are already under the strain of trying to afford food.

Last year 47 million hungry Americans lost food stamp benefits, and Congress may be bringing more cuts to the table. Needy families are placed in the awful situation of having to choose between heat or food.

The combination of this winter's "polar vortex" with the cuts in food stamps has created a perfect storm of increasing hunger in America.

Feeding America's CEO Bob Aiken says, "The high cost of heat this winter due to prolonged and brutal cold spells will strain many household budgets and send more people to food pantries, soup kitchens and other emergency-food charities."

In a study released prior to the cold spell, Feeding America said about 46 percent of its clients "report choosing between paying for food and paying for heating fuel or other utilities." With the massive drop in temperatures this winter, this figure is likely much higher.

In Cincinnati, Ohio, temperatures have been in the single digits or below zero multiple days this month. Sarah Cook of the Freestore FoodBank says, "We are seeing more people right now because of utility issues. "

However, the Freestore and other food banks across the country face dwindling donations following the holidays, making it tougher to keep up with any increase in demand. In addition, with the cuts in food stamps, hungry Americans are turning to food banks for more support than ever. Food banks, even with the generosity of its donors, cannot make up the difference for major cuts in federal food aid.

Around 210,000 children would also lose free school meals with the House proposal on cutting food stamps.

While summer is the furthest from anyone's mind right now, we do have to also look ahead. Every summer we hear about how children lose access to the free school lunches and breakfasts they receive during the school year.

No Kid Hungry reports, "Low-income families say they spend an average of $300 more per month on food when kids are out of school." There are some summer feeding programs available. However, many counties do not even have summer feeding sites for children.

Unless there is more assistance available for hungry Americans, the shocks of this year will likely continue long after winter ends. Congress clearly needs to step up its efforts to fight hunger in America rather than cutting back assistance programs.

originally published at the Huffington Post.

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