WASHINGTON – A warm bed, a loving family, or good health—so many of us in West Virginia have much to be thankful for.
But as we give thanks, we must also take this time to reflect on the struggles and needs of those less fortunate.
Holidays are more than a celebration—they are a time of giving, compassion, and a generous outpour of care. As West Virginians, it is in our DNA. Our people are some of the strongest, kindest, and most giving, and our greatest work is done when we come together as a community to help those in need.
Our neighbors never turn their backs on each other, always quick to offer a helping hand. And we must continue this tradition year-round.
At a time when families are preparing feasts for loved ones, it’s so important that we think of the hungry, the cold, and the less fortunate. Every day, thousands of people depend on the safety net of food security programs such as the Supplemental Food Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).
Household food budgets across the country are severely strained — before and after Thanksgiving. It is through these programs we make sure families do not go hungry and our most vulnerable are fed.
The need is very real:
In West Virginia alone, more than 350,000 people relied on SNAP benefits to get them through rough financial times this past year. Without these benefits, one in five of our fellow West Virginians, including thousands of children, would go to bed hungry. This holiday season, we know we can do more to strengthen our food assistance programs so that nobody goes without food on Thanksgiving.
The power of charity and public service should not be limited to the holiday season, though. We must continue to work for those less fortunate by making sure their basic human needs are met at all times.
Thanks to programs like the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Head Start, children are given the opportunity to grow and flourish to become leaders of tomorrow. Without the giving individuals advocating for these critical child welfare program year-round, millions of children would be left behind.
With the year coming to a close, many are looking at their health care options before the new year starts. Through the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, and Medicare, thousands of West Virginians have been given access to health care they could not otherwise afford.
No person should have to sacrifice basic needs like health care because of the feared financial repercussions it might have on their family. As neighbors, parents, and friends, it is our responsibility to make sure these basic needs are met for those who need it the most.
As we reflect on this holiday season and look forward to the next year, we are reminded of the critical roles these social programs play for so many West Virginians. They are an investment in the futures of our most vulnerable, and I can think of no better way to show thanks than to make sure they continue.
Rockefeller is West Virginia's senior U.S. Senator.