This week, more than 400 of America's culinary leaders were on Capitol Hill to ask Congress to protect funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps).

Today, nearly half of the 46 million Americans relying on SNAP are children.

Chefs and restaurateurs such as Hugh Acheson, Daniel Boulud, Sean Brock, Floyd Cardoz, Jennifer Carroll, Tom Colicchio, Alexandra Guarnaschelli, Stephanie Izard, Food Network President Brooke Johnson, Sandra Lee, Danny Meyer, Mary Sue Milliken, Michael Mina, Marc Murphy, Pat & Gina Neely, Charlie Palmer, Rachael Ray, Marcus Samuelsson and Bryan Voltaggio joined the national anti-hunger nonprofit Share Our Strength in urging lawmakers to protect funding for this nutrition program that helps feed America's children.

Voltaggio, chef and owner of VOLT in Frederick, Md., said, "I know the challenges of raising a family and I cannot fathom how those challenges would be compounded if I weren't able to put enough food on the table."

This week the House Agriculture Committee is debating a proposed $16.5 billion in cuts to SNAP.

The group of chefs/restaurateurs said if funding for this poverty-relieving program is cut, it would affect millions of children and families, leaving them at risk for long-term hunger, health and education problems. It would also lead to 280,000 kids from low-income families losing access to free school meals in cases when eligibility is tied to their receipt of SNAP benefits, they said.

"Right now, a fifth of our youngest generation isn't getting the nutritious food they need on a regular basis," said Share Our Strength Founder and CEO Billy Shore. "Physicians have rightly described SNAP as one of our most effective vaccines. Without the food and nutrition they need to grow and thrive, vulnerable children face increased health, education, and employment challenges. We can't have a stronger America with weaker kids."

The group's letter to Congress read, in part:

"Ending childhood hunger in this country is a responsibility shared by the public and private sector. The culinary community has been a longtime ally in working to end childhood hunger: we have raised significant resources and have been outspoken advocates for the importance of connecting kids with the food they need to grow and thrive. However, without a sustained commitment from the federal government, we cannot win this battle ... childhood hunger has an enormous impact on our economy – up to $28 billion by some estimates.

"Programs like SNAP Nutrition Education provide this for millions of low-income families, teaching parents how to maximize their SNAP benefits to purchase and prepare healthy foods, and teaching kids to make healthy choices.

"While we recognize the challenges of our current fiscal environment, cutting SNAP benefits is wrong for American families and wrong for our economy. SNAP provides crucial economic stimulus activity for communities across the country. The U.S. Department of Agriculture found that for every $5 SNAP dollar spent, $9 is generated in community spending. As employers of thousands of individuals, we see the economic benefits provided by SNAP in communities across the country each day."

Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign's objective is to end childhood hunger by connecting kids to the healthy food they need, every day. Several quick-service and fast casual chains, as well as the National Restaurant Association, have contributed funding and other efforts toward the cause. The Arby's Foundation is one of the main sponsors of the No Kid Hungry campaign.

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