White House conference puts spotlight on hunger relief

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For months, Catholic Charities of Southeast Texas had to waitlist families who wanted to join a food pantry program. This was because the charity and other charities were unable to meet the rising demand due to rising food prices and the ending of federal pandemic relief assistance.

Many families who visit the food bank, which is like a grocery shop with a wide variety of nutritious food, are already struggling to pay for housing and healthcare , other expenses. When they are turned away from the pantry they often look for cheaper food or other food banks that offer fewer healthy options.

” If someone is hungry and has nothing else to eat, a honeybun is the best choice,” Carol Fernandez, president of Catholic Charities of Southeast Texas, said.

The White House will host Wednesday’s conference as food charities struggle to keep pace with rising inflation. Since the Biden administration began hosting listening sessions with nutrition groups, corporations and federal agencies to find ways to end hunger by 2030., it has been going on for several months. This ambitious goal would transform operations at nonprofits such as Catholic Charities and foundations that feed the one-in-six Americans who seek food from non-profits each year.

While few details have been made about the conference’s policy priorities and there are many questions about the political likelihood for big changes, foundations and nonprofits have reasons to be optimistic. They believe the conference will be a launch pad for major changes.

Foodbanks, which millions of Americans depend on when federal assistance is insufficient, are not a long-term solution to America’s hunger problem, according to nonprofit leaders. New approaches are needed to address the issue of hunger. They must consider how food is distributed and how other factors like low wages and rents affect it.

” The truth is that Americans throw away more food than is needed to end hunger,” states Vince Hall, chief of government relations at Feeding America. “This is not a question of lacking resources — it’s a question of lacking resolve.”

The last time the White House held a conference on hunger and nutrition was more than 50 years ago. The 1969 conference was called for by President Richard Nixon. It promised to “put an ending to hunger in America for ever” and resulted in several significant policy changes, including school lunches for children and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.

These federal programs provide direct assistance to low-income Americans for food purchases. But foundations and non-profits claim that hunger is linked to other social and environment challenges, such as low wages, poverty, climate change, and racial or gender inequalities, so they have been focusing their efforts on those issues.

But the federal government hasn’t adopted that approach, according to hunger experts.

” Food insecurity is at the root of inadequate income,” Lisa Davis, senior vice-president of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign, says. “And we know that food is often the first thing families cut When families don’t have enough income, food is the most important item they cut The White House has set out some themes for the conference. These include increasing food accessibility and affordability, recognizing nutrition’s role in overall health, encouraging healthy choices, and expanding nutrition research. In the weeks leading up to the conference, six private listening sessions were held by the White House with representatives from corporations, federal agencies, and academia. The conference will not be announced by the administration, leading to criticism from activists that it will be a glorified news conference.

For Share Our Strength, the conference represents a first step in opening wider conversations among foundations, government, businesses, and nonprofits about poverty and hunger.

“We cannot wait for the perfect political moment – we have to act now,” Davis says, who is optimistic despite the difficulties of passing major legislation in today’s politically heated environment.

” “We have to start somewhere, but right now is as good as any time,” she said. “Indeed, the need is pretty urgent.”

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021, Congress expanded the child tax credit for low-income families, increased food-stamp payments, and made school meals free. These temporary measures cut the U.S. child poverty rate by half in 2021,, and food insecurity among families with children fell to its lowest level in 20 years.

Those who are considering permanent relief for families suffering from hunger and poverty should keep in mind the success and temporary nature of such measures, including the expanded child tax credits that expired at the end 2021.

“We’ve seen the creative responses that states and organizations made to this extraordinary challenge, following the pandemic,” Jane Stenson, vice-president for food and nutrition at Catholic Charities, said. “A lot of that creativity is fresh, and we’re hoping that maybe it will weave itself into the final outcomes of the conference.”

On Friday, Feeding America, the nation’s largest network of food banks, released a report based on the responses of nearly 36,000 people facing hunger. Nearly three quarters of respondents suggested that the government reinstate the child tax credit to alleviate family poverty. Half of English-language respondents also stated that housing costs are a major cause of hunger and poverty.

” You can’t live in food security and health if you live in poor housing,” says Stenson. “It’s all interconnected.”

In addition to seeking a return of the expanded child tax credit, organizations like Feeding America have advocated for broader expansions of food stamps, school meals, and policies to address high housing costs for families that live in poverty.

“Food bank are essential to the ultimate solution,” Hall of Feeding America says. “But we should be functioning as an emergency measure, as a temporary source of assistance for people who are getting back on their feet.”

Eileen Hyde, senior director of community resiliency at Walmart, pointed to her company’s investments in food access and nutrition programs, and its efforts this month to make it easier to shop for SNAP-eligible items online, as positive ways that businesses can work to end hunger. The company plans to offer a similar online experience to consumers who purchase products under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Programme for Women, Infants and Children.

“This is an example of how we adapt and evolve our business strategies to intersect key programs that serve customers and improve their outcomes,” Hyde says of the new feature that allows shoppers to sort for items eligible for SNAP. “It also improves their experience with us from a business perspective.”

Despite the momentum around this year’s conference, it will be difficult to live up to its 1969 predecessor’s success, says Andy Fisher, an anti-hunger activist and author of the book Big Hunger.

“They hope to recreate that watershed moment, but I think the real question is whether the political moment really is ripe for it,” says Fisher.


This article was provided to the Associated Press by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Sara Herschander is a Chronicle reporter. Email: sara.herschander@philanthropy.com. The Lilly Endowment provides support to the Chronicle and the AP for reporting on philanthropy. All content is solely the responsibility of the Chronicle and AP. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.

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