Hunger report focuses on solutions

Report includes 20 suggestions to help reduce hunger in America through SNAP improvements and encouraging more public/private partnerships.

To identify solutions to hunger, Congress created the bipartisan National Commission on Hunger “to provide policy recommendations to Congress and the (agriculture) secretary to more effectively use existing programs and funds of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to combat domestic hunger and food insecurity.”

A new report from the National Commission on Hunger provides the first comprehensive look at the solutions identified through regular meetings, public hearings and visiting entities to help alleviate hunger.

The report is based on the commission members’ full agreement that hunger cannot be solved by food alone, nor by government efforts alone, the executive summary says. “The solutions to hunger require a stronger economy, robust community engagement, corporate partnerships and greater personal responsibility, as well as strong government programs,” it adds.

In 2014, 5.6% of households in America experienced hunger for an average of about seven months of the year. The percentage of households facing hunger rose from 4.1% in 2007 to 5.4% in 2010 and has remained at around 5.6% since then, even as the economic recovery enters its sixth year.

The report recognizes that personal choices and individual responsibility are factors associated with hunger in America. The report notes that low-income families and individuals face an array of challenges to stabilizing their lives beyond food insecurity. Lack of transportation, affordable quality child care, adequate housing and job skills present significant barriers for millions of people struggling to move out of poverty.

“While not a blueprint for ending hunger, the report contains several commonsense and actionable recommendations that will help strengthen federal nutrition assistance programs and public/private partnerships to ensure more struggling Americans have access to the nutrition assistance they need while they get back on their feet,” said Diana Aviv, chief executive officer of Feeding America.

The report offers 20 specific recommendations in six areas to reduce hunger, with more than half of those coming under recommendations to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), what was formally known as the food stamp program.

Among the SNAP improvements include encouraging a greater emphasis on job placement and ensuring that SNAP eligibility incentivizes work. It also suggests excluding a carefully defined class of sugar-sweetened beverages – a.k.a. soft drinks – to be added to the list of items excluded from the allowable purchase with SNAP.

There are four suggestions for making improvements to child nutrition programs. These include improving access to summer feeding programs and changing area eligibility of summer feeding and making the summer electronic benefit transfer option available. The commission's report includes several policy recommendations that would strengthen the Summer Food Service Program.

"With Congress scheduled to take up reauthorization of child nutrition programs this year, there is an immediate opportunity to strengthen these vital programs and specifically to improve access to the Summer Food Service Program, which currently reaches only about 18% of eligible children,” Aviv said. Adopting the policy changes would “ensure that more eligible children are able to get the nutrition they need to grow and thrive all year-round.” (For more on school lunch standards and how they're working, read this story on a new report's findings.)

The commission also suggested incentivizing and expanding corporate, nonprofit and public partnerships to address hunger. “Addressing hunger should not be the responsibility of individuals and government alone but should be shared with multiple stakeholders and a large volunteer base of committed community leaders for widespread community impact,” the report states.

Congress should designate existing funds to measures such as tax incentives, matching funding programs and other similar measures that provide incentives to and catalyze the development of greater private efforts to address hunger and support existing partnerships with government.

The commission also suggested that USDA should provide incentives for creating and sustaining public/private partnerships (which should adhere to the same standards of non-discrimination that apply to fully public programs) while also placing greater emphasis on and providing funds for Hunger-Free Communities collective impact efforts as well as programs that provide incentives for farmers to contribute food to food banks and other food providers.

It also would be beneficial to emphasize  efforts that improve the quality of emergency food and reduce food waste by enabling grocers, restaurant owners, caterers and other foodservice providers and food producers to donate extra food to emergency food providers and others who serve low-income communities (this requires improved Good Samaritan laws).

Read the full report here.

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