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Are corporations really committed to ending child hunger?
In 2021, childhood poverty in the United States dropped to 5.2%, the lowest recorded level since measuring began in 2009. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, this historic low was chiefly driven by the federal government’s one-year expansion of the child tax credit (CTC).
But, in 2022, when the expanded CTC payments expired, childhood poverty more than doubled to 12.4%. Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy reports that had the payments continued into 2022 “much of the historic decline in child poverty of 2021 would have been preserved.” The group also estimates that “an additional 3 million children would have been kept above the poverty line in 2022.” Instead of this, however, 5.2 million additional children fell into poverty last year due to the policy’s lapse. Poverty-related issues, like hunger and housing, have also been on the rise.
As Popular Information reported last week, this crisis was completely avoidable. In 2021, the Biden administration proposed to extend the expanded CTC for one year in the Build Back Better (BBB) plan. (This was pared back from an initial proposal to extend the expanded CTC until 2025.) The tax credit expansion would cost about $100 billion per year but generate almost $1 trillion annually in benefits to society. Studies found that the payments, before they expired, served as a critical “buffer” against food insecurity and reduced food insufficiency by 19% among households with children.
The proposal, however, was defeated –- in large part by corporate lobbyists. Groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (the Chamber) and the Business Roundtable, which represent the nation’s largest companies, spent millions of dollars successfully lobbying against the poverty measure.
Previously, expanding the CTC was not a strictly partisan issue, with many Republicans believing the tax credit promoted "family values." Former President George W. Bush (R) counts expanding the CTC as one of his signature accomplishments. But the aggressive corporate lobbying campaign changed that and solidified Republican opposition.
Nevertheless, several companies that participated in the anti-CTC lobbying effort insist that they are committed to ending childhood poverty and often boast of the millions they contribute to the cause.
Citi, for example, says it cares “deeply about helping to end childhood hunger.” Since 2014, the bank has contributed millions to No Kid Hungry, a campaign seeking to end childhood hunger in the United States. Citi has been praised by No Kid Hungry for its “extraordinary generosity” and is recognized by the group as its “leading partner.” When the pandemic struck, for instance, “the Citi Foundation stepped up immediately with an additional $5 million donation.” Before that, in 2015 and 2016, the bank made donations to No Kid Hungry every time a Citi card member dined out. Citi also sponsors various national events for No Kid Hungry.
“The truth is no child should have to worry about where their next meal is coming from,” Citi’s Head of Enterprise Services and Public Affairs Edward Skyler wrote in 2022. The company says it is committed to helping end hunger “until the day no one has to worry about putting food on the table.”
Earlier this year, the bank shared that it has helped No Kid Hungry provide “300 million meals for kids facing hunger” since their partnership began. Citi also announced that it was creating a $25 million global fund to support organizations addressing food insecurity.
Citi’s CEO, Jane Fraser, however, is a Board Member of the Business Roundtable. A spokeswoman for the Business Roundtable told the Washington Post in 2021 that it had launched “a significant, multifaceted campaign” against Biden’s BBB agenda.
Citi is also a member of the Chamber. In 2021, the Chamber sent a letter to lawmakers criticizing the expanded CTC, saying that “transfer payments without requiring that recipients work will dampen participation.” This claim, however, turned out to be baseless. A 2022 study from the Center on Poverty and Social Policy found that “there is no evidence that the monthly payments reduced employment.”
In addition, Citi’s “multi-million” dollar donations to anti-hunger groups pale in comparison to the $100 billion dollars the government was set to invest in children across the country. To provide a sense of scale, the annual CTC investment would be 20,000 times more than Citi’s $5 million contribution during the pandemic. Asked by Popular Information if Citi had reconsidered its participation in both the Chamber and Business Roundtable’s lobbying efforts against the expanded CTC — Citi declined to respond.
Citi is not the only one. Other companies also claim to care about childhood hunger and poverty, yet were part of the lobbying blitz that killed federal investments in childhood poverty reduction.
Walmart's commitment to "fighting hunger" has some exceptions
Walmart states that it has “long been committed to fighting food insecurity.” The company claims that, over the last 10 years, it has “generate[d] more than $165 million for Feeding America and local food banks across the country” through its “Fight Hunger. Spark Change” campaign. Since 2019, the Walmart Foundation has also “provided critical funding to support No Kid Hungry’s efforts.” The company says, in the 2023 fiscal year, it has awarded more than $13 million in grants to Feeding America.
The retailer acknowledges that its “scale puts us in a position to make a significant impact on the issues of food insecurity in the United States.”
That’s why the company says it’s “Fighting Hunger, Year Around” in multiple ways, including educating on nutrition, bringing together organizations that work on food access, and advocating “directly at the local and national level for positive change.”
But Walmart’s CEO, Doug McMillon, serves on the Business Roundtable’s Board of Directors and was part of the effort that killed the CTC expansion. Walmart is also a member of the Chamber. The company did not return a request for comment.
Kellogg's lobbying has a much bigger impact than its charitable donations
In 2020, the company donated “$1 million to No Kid Hungry to improve and expand its school breakfast programs in the U.S.” Kellogg Marketing Director Sam Minardi said that the “donation alone can feed hungry kids 10 million healthy meals.”
“Kellogg is a company with a Heart and Soul, passionate about fighting hunger and feeding potential for people and communities,” Minardi wrote in a press release. “That means ensuring that there is enough food for everyone, especially for children who might not always have access to a good breakfast.”
This year, the company launched a breakfast fundraising campaign alongside actress Eva Longoria and announced it would donate up to $100,000 to No Kid Hungry. "We are committed to helping combat childhood hunger through our long-standing partnership with No Kid Hungry, and to date have reached 1.8 million kids and helped serve 194 million meals," Kellogg's Senior Director Zion Doran said.
But Kellogg is a member of the Chamber, which celebrated the defeat of the expanded CTC as one of its “accomplishments on behalf of business.” One year’s worth of the expanded CTC would have been equivalent to 12,500 times more than Kellogg has raised to help end childhood hunger since 2013.