A task force created during the 2007 legislative session to address Oklahoma's growing hunger crisis will hold its first meeting Tuesday, September 25. Sen. Andrew Rice and Rep. Kris Steele were the authors of SB 499 creating the task force.
Rice said he is anxious to hear expert testimony on this issue that affects thousands of Oklahomans on a daily basis.
"Oklahoma ranks in the bottom five nationally for the number of hungry citizens it has. Half a million Oklahomans are at risk of going to bed hungry, including one out of every five children, and the numbers are increasing at a disturbing rate. These are statistics you expect to see in third world countries, not in Oklahoma," said Rice, D-Oklahoma City. "We have the resources to address this problem, we just need to bring all the players - public, private, nonprofit and religious communities - to the table to coordinate their efforts."
According to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, most of the thousands of adults that are going hungry are employed, but do not make enough to pay all of their bills and are forced to choose between paying the utilities or buying groceries. Their statistics show that 42 percent must choose between utilities or food; 33 percent must choose to pay rent or mortgage or buy food; and 33 percent must choose to buy medicine or food. In addition, 41 percent report that one or more household members are in poor health; and 55 percent of clients have unpaid medical or hospital bills.
Steele, who will co-chair the task force with Rice, added that a lack of good coordination between all the groups working at reducing hunger in Oklahoma is a serious problem facing the state.
"The task force will bring these groups together and combine their efforts in order to make sure Oklahomans in need do not go hungry," said Steele, R-Shawnee. "This is especially imperative for school age children. If left unaddressed, hunger sets in motion an array of outcomes that perpetuate malnutrition, reduce the ability of adults to work, and erode children's ability to learn and lead productive, healthy, and happy lives."
SB 499 was a request bill from the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City and the Eastern Oklahoma Food Bank in Tulsa. The 15-member task force includes representatives from various state agencies as well as religious communities and public and private organizations like the Regional Food Bank. The task force has until December 31 to submit their findings and recommendations to the Governor.
The task force will meet at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, September 25 at the Oklahoma Hospital Association seminar center located at 4000 N. Lincoln Blvd. in Oklahoma City.