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Ruth Riley goes to Congress, recounts childhood hardships in advocating against cuts to food stamps

Published on October 27, 2015

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Former WNBA player, Olympic gold medalist and Notre Dame graduate Ruth Riley testified before Congress this morning on the importance of food stamps and advocated against cuts to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In the past, Riley has written about how her family needed to rely on food stamps when she was child to get through hard times. Below is a video and transcript of her testimony to members of the House of Representatives.

Testimony of Ruth Riley
Former WNBA Athlete, Olympic Gold Medalist
Before the House Agriculture Committee, Nutrition Subcommittee
Re: Past, Present, and Future of SNAP: Breaking the Cycle
October 27, 2015

Good morning Chairwoman Walorski, Ranking Member McGovern and members of the Committee. I would like to thank you for this opportunity to share my experience on the importance of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or what my family called “food stamps.”

This is an issue that is woven into the fabric of my childhood. My father walked out when I was 4 years old. He left my mom to raise my sister, brother and I on her own. She found herself
doing whatever blue collar work she could find to provide for us. It wasn’t easy. Besides the rare instances I would wake up in the night to find my mom crying at the kitchen table as she was trying to navigate our family’s finances, I was pretty oblivious, as most kids are, to the level of poverty we were living in.

I knew there were some times when my mom paid for our groceries with what looked like monopoly money instead of cash. Off and on throughout my childhood I would have a little ticket that got me a free breakfast or lunch at school. But as a kid, I had limited knowledge of food stamps or free and reduced price school meals. I just knew that, somehow, when we needed it, there was always food.

Because I had this food, I was able to learn and focus in school, which ultimately led me to graduate with honors from the University of Notre Dame. It also fueled my real passion. Basketball. I’m grateful and proud of the success I’ve had in winning championships at the collegiate, professional, and Olympic levels. I often joke that growing up I was tall, lanky and uncoordinated. Looking back, I can’t imagine what my path would have been if I’d been tall, lanky, uncoordinated…and hungry. When times were tough, the nutrition I received through programs like food stamps and school meals helped me grow stronger. It saw me through all the numerous hours of training before and after school, lifting with the football coaches and playing pick-up games with the guys. It was all physically demanding and I could not have done it if I hadn’t had enough to eat.

We live in a land of wealth and opportunity, so acknowledging that one in five children in this country lives in a family struggling to put enough food on the table is hard. It’s easy to feel compassion about hungry children when it’s in the abstract, but it’s tough to admit that our next door neighbor’s children might not have the food they need to thrive. I say thrive because, in America, it’s often not the case of life or death or survival. It’s the fact that kids don’t have the nutrition they need to learn and physically grow. By not providing them with that, as a society, we’re also not providing them with the opportunity to be successful, to go to college, and to break the cycle of poverty instead of getting stuck in it. We talk about educational reform, but we don’t talk about the fact that hungry kids can’t concentrate and learn. We talk about health care, but we don’t talk about the stunted development and avoidable health issues that rise from a lack of proper nutrition. We talk about jobs, but we overlook the impact that hunger-related issues have on creating a job-ready generation.

SNAP is critical to ending childhood hunger. I can tell you, first hand, that when programs like SNAP work in tandem with other programs like school meals, we can make sure that kids are
getting the three meals a day they need to grow up strong. For example, school breakfast ensures that kids can start their days with a healthy meal to fuel their brains, while also allowing parents to stretch SNAP dollars longer into the month instead of running out early. This way, even when money is extremely tight, we can guarantee that kids are still getting the healthy food they need.

My mom taught me to dream big and then to work extremely hard to achieve those dreams. My dream as a little girl growing up on a farm in Indiana was to play in the Olympics, and I was
fortunate to see that dream fulfilled in Athens in 2004 as I stood on the podium to receive my gold medal. Today, my dream is equally as bold, and I believe, achievable. I want to see a nation
in which no child goes hungry. A nation where every child has the ability to get the nutrition they need to grow up smart and strong. A nation where every little girl dares to dream her dreams, and also gets the food and support she needs to grow up and achieve them.

Incredible morning testifying before the Congressional Subcommittee on Nutrition – Public Hearing RE: Past, Present, and Future of SNAP: Breaking the Cycle. I have so much respect for Congresswoman Walorski and the leadership position she is taking on this important issue!! @repwalorski #NoKidHungry

A photo posted by Ruth Riley (@ruthriley00) on

This post is part of the thread: 2015 WNBA Season – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.


 

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  • Susan Heavilon

    Thank you, Ruth Riley, for being a well-spoken advocate for important social programs like SNAP.

  • Nancy Papas

    What powerful testimony! Thank you for coming forward to share your personal story. Many would not have the courage to reveal circumstances of poverty. You have made a wonderful difference for children who need your advocacy. Thank you again for making that difference.

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