Fighting food insecurity and bettering child nutrition programs

As we wait to see if Congress will pass a new COVID relief package before the new term, we are getting a closer look at the measures they have already taken. Specifically, food insecurity-- which impacts millions of rural Americans.

The latest report from Feeding America shows that the number of people who are food insecure in 2020 could rise to more than 50 million, including 17 million children.

Nebraska Republican, Don Bacon says that Congress included food and nutrition in the stimulus packages.

“We’ve had four supplementals and some of our supplementals are targeted just at this problem. In our first supplemental, we put about $8 billion dollars for vaccine development, testing, therapeutic care, but the second supplemental was roughly $190 billion dollars and most of that was targeted towards improving our safety net and some of that went to SNAP, some went to unemployment benefits, some went to school lunch, summer lunch programs.”

He also worked with Representatives Jim Costa, Rodney Davis, and Abigail Spanberger on a bill he calls “Operation Feed Our Kids,” authorizing USDA to extend child nutrition programs.

“I’m proud to say that bill was put into the continuing resolution, so it’s funded right now and serving as law,” he states. “It takes the summer food services and can essentially use it all year long, not just in the summer... So, if a school has to go back into shutdown mode we can still do the summer school food program.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, farmers across the country faced uncertain supply chains. Now, members of the United Fresh Produce Association are working to create solutions for schools and producers.

The association’s president, Tom Stenzel, states, “Our members have pivoted also in working with school districts to prepare single serve, wrapped fresh produce, but we’ve got to continue to find a way, and another thing this pandemic has shown us is the vital part of health because... those who don’t have as good of health, obesity, diabetes, prediabetes, are at a greater risk from the virus.”

The United Fresh Produce Association has also been working with Congress and the USDA to expand food programs that drive demand for fresh fruits and vegetables.

“I think we need to create demand. We need to put more money to SNAP, more money to people who can buy fruits and vegetables to pull that through the system,” Stenzel adds. “How do we reallocate those farm subsidies, because I agree it needs to happen, but it’s not just a matter of shifting the subsidies to my farmers. It has got to be thoughtful in terms of what’s really going to get more fresh produce to the people who need it.”

The group is also calling for more flexibility for food and nutrition programs.