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Hosts reception and delivers floor speech on exhibit depicting hunger and poverty in Philadelphia

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) took to the Senate floor and hosted a reception in honor of the exhibit Witnesses to Hunger, a photography project documenting hunger and poverty in Philadelphia.  The exhibit, hosted by Senator Casey, is on display all week in the Russell Rotunda and features photographs taken by women living in Philadelphia. 

“Witnesses to Hunger reminds political leaders that all the work we do and the initiatives we advocate for in Washington affect people’s everyday lives,” said Senator Casey.  “I thank the women of Witnesses to Hunger for their bravery and the rare courage it takes to open part of their lives to us all.  I also thank Dr. Mariana Chilton of Drexel University for bringing this project to Washington and helping these women share their stories.”

“These women are the real experts,” Chilton said. “They each have something to teach the world, and are not ashamed of what they have to say. They are fighting each day to provide for their children, and this was a way that we could give them a microphone to the world.”

Witnesses to Hunger began as a program through Drexel University’s School of Public Health led by Chilton in Philadelphia in which 40 Philadelphia mothers were given cameras to document their struggles living in urban poverty. 

As a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, Senator Casey fought hard to ensure that the reauthorization of the Farm Bill included vital improvements to nutrition and anti-hunger programs that are essential to more than a million Pennsylvanians.  Senator Casey also championed an annual funding increase of $110 million for The Emergency Food Assistance Program. This funding, which was included in the new Farm Bill, will provide food commodities and funding assistance to food banks and pantries serving low-income families.

Senator Casey introduced the Bonus TEFAP Assistance Act (S. 194) to help food banks access additional food commodities. This Act will provide critical funding needed to ensure food assistance agencies, already in desperate need of supplies, can take full advantage of the distributions of bonus food commodities supplied by USDA through the Emergency Food Assistance Program.

Full text of Senator Casey’s floor speech on Witnesses to Hunger is below.

Thank you, Mr. President. I rise this morning to talk about a very important and very moving exhibit that I’m proud to host here in the capitol complex, in particular, specifically in the Russell building. The name of the exhibit is called Witnesses to Hunger. It's a project created by Dr. Mariana Chilton at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is currently on display not far from here in the Russell building. To create this exhibit Dr. Chilton gave cameras to 40 women living in Philadelphia so they could document their lives, their struggles with hunger and poverty and so many other challenges.

The result is a powerful exhibit of photographs giving us an insight -- not the whole picture, but an insight -- into the lives of these women and the lives they lead, and their children and their struggles living today in Philadelphia. Women who are living in this city, part of this exhibit, try every day to provide a safe and nurturing home for their children while finding a job that pays a living wage. They labor every day to provide food and medicine for their children. These are women fighting to make sure that their children, their families can have the health care that they need. And I’ll have the opportunity today to meet with several of the women who participated in the "Witnesses to Hunger" exhibit and this project.

I want to thank them for their bravery, rare courage to be able to open themselves up, open up part of their lives to all of us. And for also making the trip to Washington so they can hear about -- so we can hear about, I should say -- their experiences firsthand. I've always believed that at its best, when it's doing the right thing, government is about people. It's not really in the end about budgets and data and information and numbers. That's important, but that's really the means to the end. It really should be about not every day do we meet this objective, but it should be about and must be about people. And today we have a real example of that, a real living example of real people's lives.

Witnesses to Hunger reminds us that the programs that we advocate for and work on in new initiatives here in Washington that affect people's lives are what we must be about. There is no better investment, in my judgment, than in the future of our children. I also believe that every child in America, every single child is born with a light inside them. For some, that light will be boundless, or scintillating, or incandescent. Pick your word. There are no limits to the potential that some children have because of intellect or circumstance or otherwise. Their future is indeed boundless. For others, for other children that light is a little more, a little more limited because of those same circumstances. But I also believe that at the same time no matter whether that light inside a child is boundless or much more limited, it is our obligation to do everything we can to make sure that that child's potential that, bright light is given the opportunity to shine as brightly as possible for that child.

Kids in school right now will be the workforce that will help us build new industries in jobs and transform our economy into the future. The good news is that we've already passed some important pieces of legislation that are improving children's lives. Last year the farm bill included a very strong nutrition section to increase access and benefits for people who use food stamps, now called by the acronym SNAP, the children's health insurance program, another example which will bring the number of children in America who have the benefit this have good program, this time-tested, effective program, to almost 11 million American children.

We'll have an opportunity to do more because even despite the advancements we've made in children's health insurance, there is still 5 million more children, even when we get to 10.5 million to 11 million children, 5 million more have no health insurance at all. Prekindergarten education, you have a bill on that and will be working on that to make sure that children have an opportunity for early learning. Nutrition programs, which also include not just food stamps, as I mentioned before, the school lunch program, the women, infants and children's programs and on and on. When we talk about that light inside a child, I do believe that we have, all of us in both parties, in both houses of congress and in the administration, that all of us have an obligation to make sure that light shines as brightly as possible for each and every child.

We do that, I think, by doing a number of things. One is to make sure the children have access to early learning, that they have nutrition in the early years of their life, and that they also have health care. If we at least provide that opportunity for every child -- nutrition, health care and early learning -- not only will that child be better off, we're all going to be better off in terms of the kind of economy and, therefore, the kind of workforce that is the foundation of that economy that we build into the future. So I hope that my colleagues and their staffs have a chance to view this exhibit, Witnesses to Hunger. And I also believe it's in keeping with and is consistent with that commitment to make sure that the light in every child burns as brightly as possible for each and every child and his or her family. I know that's my obligation as the senator from Pennsylvania, and I believe it's all of our obligations as United States Senators. Mr. President, thank you very much, and I yield the floor.