Take Action for the Right to Healthy Food During the COVID-19 Epidemic and Beyond!

What a shock to walk into a grocery store and find nothing but empty shelves!  Or to expect to eat at daycare, school or a senior center, only to find those locations shuttered. Or to need help buying groceries now because of lost income due to COVID-19 closures.

The coronavirus pandemic is exposing the fragility of our food system, especially for the one in four Americans who access federal government nutrition assistance each year.

There is an urgent need for Congress to shore up our federal safety net to deal with the unique food security challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

But Congress can’t stop there. It’s time for the U.S. to recognize the Right to Healthy Food!

TAKE ACTION: Tell Congress to immediately pass H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, then work to pass the Green New Deal for “universal access to healthy food.”

healthy foods and produce in a reuseable bag at a grocery store

The Green New Deal resolution is the first piece of federal legislation to propose making it the duty of the federal government to secure healthy food for all people of the United States for generations to come. The resolution proposes to do so “by building a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food.”

What a long way away we are from the Green New Deal’s vision of everyone having access to healthy food! 

The U.S. has yet to make sure everyone has access to enough food—let alone healthy food.

In fiscal year 2018, the federal government spent $68 billion on SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and other related food assistance programs. In addition, the National School Lunch Program provided low-cost or free lunches to 29.7 million children daily at a cost of $13.8 billion.

Despite these efforts, in 2018, 11.1 percent of households were food insecure at least some time during the year, meaning that their access to adequate food for active, healthy living is limited by lack of money and other resources. This includes 4.3 percent (5.6 million households) that had very low food security, a more severe range of food insecurity where food intake of one or more members is reduced and normal eating patterns are disrupted.

Half of all households participating in SNAP are still food insecure. More than half exhaust benefits within the first two weeks of the month. Later in the month, after families run out of benefits, hospital admissions and school disciplinary problems rise, and test scores fall. 

Increasing monthly SNAP benefits is proven to reduce food insecurity and the problems associated with hunger, and may even promote healthier eating. When families of school-aged children were given an extra $60 per month per child over the summer to offset the lack of school meals, food expenditures rose by 10 percent, food insecurity fell by 21 to 34 percent, and three of eight measures of child nutrition outcomes improved modestly, including an increase in children’s fruit, vegetable and dairy consumption.

Another strategy is the use of incentive programs at farmers’ markets. The dollar-for-dollar match on SNAP dollars spent on fruits and vegetables leads to more fruit and vegetable consumption, improved food security and better diets.

Our current food and nutrition programs are insufficient. Not only do they not provide enough to eat they function as subsidies for employers. 

Most SNAP recipients who can work do so. (About two-thirds of SNAP recipients are not expected to work, because they are children, elderly or disabled, but there are working people in most of their households.)  

The problem isn’t that SNAP recipients don’t work. It’s that they work low-wage, no-benefits, part-time jobs for the likes of Amazon, Walmart, McDonald’s and other food industry giants. Public assistance to workers in the fast food industry has been estimated at $7 billion a year.

If anyone is wondering who should pay for the increases to food and nutrition programs necessary to eliminate food insecurity, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), has introduced the Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies Act or Stop BEZOS Act. The proposal would tax large companies equivalent to what their workers receive in government assistance. 

But, even if we solve the problem of greedy corporations that don’t want to pay their employees enough to eat, there will always be situations, like the coronavirus pandemic we’re facing now, where for whatever reason there are people who don’t have enough money to eat well.

Until we have a right to healthy food, politicians like Trump will continue to toy with programs like SNAP.

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