Op-Ed: Hunger is a Political Decision. We Can Work to End It. | Civil Eats

Op-Ed: Hunger is a Political Decision. We Can Work to End It.

A young child watches as local residents receive food items as Food Bank For New York City teams up with the New York Yankees to kick-off monthly food distribution for New Yorkers in need at Yankee Stadium on May 20, 2021 in New York City.

May 4, 2022 update: President Biden today announced that for the first time in over 50 years, the White House will host a Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health this September. 

March 15, 2022 update: Representative McGovern today noted that the newly passed federal spending package includes $2.5 million to “make a White House conference on Food, Nutrition, Health & Hunger a reality.”

New data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that while hunger in America is still surging far above pre-pandemic levels, Congressional aid is making a difference. This is welcome news for a country that has seen lines at food banks stretching on for miles and too many families going without food.

It is also a reminder that hunger is not inevitable—it’s a policy choice.

Even before the pandemic, over 40 million Americans experienced food insecurity. While Congress has made significant and important progress to address hunger during the COVID pandemic through landmark investments in nutrition programs, we believe it’s time to take the next step. That’s why we are calling for the White House to hold a substantive, policy-based conference focused on ending hunger throughout the United States by 2030.

The last and only White House conference on hunger was held in 1969—the same year we landed a man on the moon.

While far from perfect, the conference was responsible for the creation and expansion of vital anti-hunger safety net programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).

More than 50 years later, we believe now is the time to think holistically and improve our coordination across an array of social service programs, bringing into focus both the successes and the failures of federal programs. Who is falling through the cracks? What more needs to be done? These are questions we need to address with new solutions.

The pandemic has made the need for federal programs beyond food assistance clearer than ever. Unemployment benefits, housing, affordable childcare, healthcare, and tax credits are all critical supports for families under stress. Together, these programs and policies all help address hunger. The problem though, is that they span across many programs, agencies, and levels of government.

Imagine the progress that could be achieved today if the heads of food banks, hospitals, government agencies, nonprofits, educators, and the faith-based community all came together at the same table, and worked together with the White House to solve our hunger crisis in a holistic way. They could develop a real plan with actionable benchmarks to help us end the crisis by 2030, as the United Nations has called for.

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This conference should improve on the 1969 conference in one in a key way: it should include a diverse group of Americans who have experienced hunger firsthand. Such perspective is vital to ensuring our policies are centered on the real experiences of everyday people, not just numbers and statistics.

Congress has been doing its part to fight food insecurity. In March 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19 emergency response, it agreed to increase SNAP benefits so families could stock up and prepare for quarantine. Then, as the pandemic impact increased, Democrats were able to secure an additional 15 percent monthly increase in SNAP benefits for the duration of the pandemic.

Programs like Pandemic EBT, WIC, the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program are also helping many Americans. Recent legislation has also provided additional funding and resources to these programs.

As chairs in the House, we have been working to make addressing hunger a national priority.

The Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations has been playing a vital role ensuring hunger is part of our ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. It has advanced investments in the SNAP program, spearheaded expansion of online food purchasing, ensured food banks had the resources they needed to meet increased demand, and provided oversight as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has implemented these historic undertakings.

The House Rules Committee has also begun a series of groundbreaking anti-hunger hearings to learn from and uplift a diverse chorus of voices so that when the Biden administration is ready to hold a hunger conference, they can hit the ground running to help shape the dialogue.

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But Congress can not end hunger alone. We must bring the full weight of the federal government to bear.

Every single person living in this country deserves to wake up each day without having to worry about where their next meal will come from. We have the food, the knowledge, and the resources to guarantee food security for every person in America. A White House conference on hunger would help us take a vital step forward in building the political will to end this crisis once and for all.

James P. McGovern (D-MA) was elected to the House of Representatives in 1996. He is Chairman of the Committee on Rules. He is also the founder and co-chair of the House Hunger Caucus and sits on the House Subcommittee on Nutrition, where he advocates tirelessly for funding programs that help working families, children, and the elderly put food on the table when times are tough. Read more >

Jahana Hayes has been the U.S. Representative for the Fifth Congressional District of Connecticut since 2018. She is the first African-American woman and the first African-American Democrat to ever represent the state of Connecticut in Congress. She currently sits on House committees of Education and Labor, and Agriculture. She is the chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight and Department Operations. Read more >

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  1. When you begin assembling folks from different sectors around the table to discuss ways to end hunger, invite producers: farmers, ranchers, and farm- and ranch hands. That you didn't think to include them in the general discussion of how to establish a more just, humane and equitable food system is telling.

    Also, let's ensure that nonprofit leaders are working to realize their missions and not just perpetuating the status quo.

    Thanks for writing this article.

    David Laskarzewski absolutely hit a target list as to exactly who must have seats at the table, not simply DISCUSSING how to establish, not only a MORE just, humane and equitable food system, but demanding HOW TO establish THE just, humane and equitable food we absolutely NEED TO SURVIVE on our tables.

    Congress knows how to form commitees to discuss, ad nauseaum. What they do not do is ESTABLISH justice, humanity and equity throughout a UNITED States of America. Very TELLING indeed!

    Many Non Profits DO profit from perpetuating, thus conserving, the status quo. Citizens need to concentrate focus to ENSURE holding nonprofits to their stated missions, rather than letting them slide.

    TALK is not cheap, earth and inhabitants are paying the steep prices for materialistic lust and EXCUSES.

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