Rep. Hayes, Chairwoman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight & Department Operations, volunteering at a local food bank.

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

This OP-Ed was released to coincide with my 1st hearing as the Chairwoman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight & Department Operations. It is co-authored by Rep. James P. McGovern (D-MA). He is Chairman of the Committee on Rules and the founder and Co-Chair of the House Hunger Caucus.

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.

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.

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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.

This OpEd was originally published on CivilEats.com