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An Advocacy Agenda For Hunger in a Pandemic

By February 4, 2021June 25th, 2021No Comments

Each year, Food Lifeline works with state lawmakers on hunger priorities that will get us closer to ending hunger in Washington state. Food Lifeline’s 2021 State Advocacy Agenda is necessarily ambitious to address the continuing pandemic hunger response, resupply exhausted nutrition assistance supports and implement added hunger relief capacity at a systems level.

It’s difficult to overstate the detrimental impacts of the pandemic on the people’s daily lives. To date, as many as 3 million Washingtonians will be food insecure – two to three times the already unacceptable level before COVID hit. Even a year after the pandemic began, hunger continues to rise unabated as people move in and out of job situations or exhaust their emergency supports. Too many Washingtonians are struggling just to get by.

Our state’s hunger response.

The charitable hunger relief system in Washington is essentially the state’s stockpile for emergency food and its distribution system – Washington has 3 statewide food bank distribution centers, 10 regional food bank redistributors, and more than 500 local hunger relief agencies making for an interconnected network of support throughout the state.

The Washington State Department of Agriculture also supports charitable relief efforts – they’ve sent record amounts of food to hunger relief agencies and as a coordinating entity, have continually adapted to changing conditions and needs on the ground. The state’s Department of Social and Health Services, Department of Health, and Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction also offer direct nutrition assistance programs to the community.

Lawmakers now get to help.

With Washington state’s legislative session underway, we are turning to lawmakers for support and investments to better equip our communities to meet the need for direct assistance, build necessary hunger relief infrastructure, and work to stop hunger before it happens.

Food Lifeline is asking for state investments into cold storage space, equipment, trucks, and in some cases expanded facilities to transport more food safely to communities across the state. Some of these investments must be focused on capacity-building specific to agencies that redistribute food to other agencies – this is how most donated food and government commodities make their way to the shelves of a local food pantry. Improving redistribution capacity is a systems-level solution for getting more food to more communities.

We are also seeking to expand existing programs that have already proven critical to moving food from Washington growers to local food pantries or schools, like the aptly named “Farm to Food Pantry” and “Farm to School” efforts. These programs have become increasingly important during the pandemic. Also, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the country’s first line of defense against hunger, must be bolstered by Washington state resources to allow for more purchasing of fresh fruits & vegetables. These programs provide direct assistance to those in need while supporting local food growers, retailers, and farmers markets economically as well.

These structural supports could be amplified by funding large-scale procurement of donated Washington produce to supply hunger relief efforts statewide. Feeding the Northwest, an organization that sources more than 60 million pounds of donated Washington produce annually, would use these funds to partner with Washington growers to get unsold produce out of the ground and onto a truck headed to a local food pantry.

It’s more than food.

The pandemic not only revealed fractures in the state’s hunger response, but also brought the disproportionate impacts of hunger on communities of color and historically underserved regions of the state into stark relief. Food Lifeline’s advocacy agenda targets legislative measures focused on poverty, equity & social justice. Only by making advances on the inequitable root causes of hunger can we truly move forward as a state.

Our agenda calls out funding for the State Office of Equity. This office will lead coordination of racial justice initiatives across state government – an important step to systematizing problem solving with an equity lens. We also support parity in digital access across disparate communities. The lack of broadband access has left people in underserved areas cut-off from opportunities in education, remote work, and support systems.

Food Lifeline will also be advocating to rebalance the state’s tax code. Sadly, Washington has the most regressive tax code in the nation. Low income working families pay as much as 18% of their income in state and local taxes compared to only 3% for the wealthiest. In other words, low income workers are paying 6 times what wealthier workers pay. Clearly, if we are to be serious about ending hunger, we must be serious about ending poverty. And that starts with inequity in the social, civic, and economic dimensions of people’s lives.

While these priorities are outlined in the governor’s budget proposal, there are a myriad of additional investments in agencies and programs that support people who need food assistance that Food Lifeline will be leading on. I hope you’ll take a minute to sign up to join us on this important journey today.

Taken together, these programs and investments represent the backbone of nutrition assistance provided by the partnership between government agencies and charitable hunger relief organizations. It is imperative that all parts of the system are equipped to succeed in their respective roles. Please view Food Lifeline’s 2021 State Advocacy Agenda here.