Will the U.S. Finally Take a Holistic Approach to Ending Child Hunger?
Spurred by the pandemic and the Biden administration’s priorities, a new federal paradigm may be emerging to ensure equitable access to healthy meals.
Over the last 18 months, an alarming rise in child hunger—over 17 million children did not have consistent access to enough food in 2020—caught the attention of many federal lawmakers, prompting them to call for an overdue evaluation of the country’s child nutrition programs.
In addition to demonstrating government’s capabilities, COVID-19 disproportionately impacted communities of color and intersected with racial justice protests in response to George Floyd’s murder, pushing these issues to the forefront. In an online survey examining the impacts of COVID-19 on hunger relief organizations, WhyHunger and the Duke Sanford World Food Policy Center found that more than half of the respondents said they adjusted programming to address racial inequities.
“There’s a shift in understanding and thinking that the systems and structures in our country are not working equally for everyone,” said Noreen Springstead, executive director of WhyHunger. “We were always that provocateur in the anti-hunger space, but now the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) is talking about it, Feeding America is talking about it, Share Our Strength is talking about it.”
But Springstead wants to move the conversation one step further, from understanding the systemic ways in which hunger, inequality, and nutrition intersect, to addressing the root causes of child hunger. “Is this a radical rethinking of our national anti-hunger approach? Probably not, because these tools have been in the toolbox for a long time. They’re just getting better resourced,” she said. “My big question that we all need to ponder as Americans is, ‘What do we need to create a baseline standard for what it means to live a dignified American life?’”
For example, the WhyHunger/Duke survey found modest increases in the number of hunger relief organizations that said they were shifting to work on advocacy campaigns around issues like fair wages. And Biden’s Jobs and Families plans will invest in poverty-reducing strategies such as expanding the child tax credit and childcare subsidies. Springstead would like to see the administration eliminate tax breaks for companies that fail to pay living wages, resulting in their employees depending on federal (and charitable) food programs.