Shortly after the New Year, the National Commission on Hunger released its final report – “Freedom From Hunger: An Achievable Goal for the United States of America.” The Commission was created as part of the federal spending bill in 2014 and tasked members to provide policy recommendations to Congress and the USDA Secretary that would use the Department of Agriculture’s existing programs and funds in a more effective way to combat domestic hunger and food insecurity.
The report provides a tremendous amount of background, discussing what hunger is and identifying some of the root causes such as labor market forces and education. It also identifies a number of populations of particular concern: seniors, single parent families, veterans and active duty military, people with disabilities, Native Americans, those affected by incarceration, and immigrants.
The good news is that in creating the Commission, Congress acknowledged that hunger is still a problem in our country. The tricky part is that the constraints that were put on the Commission meant they were limited by trying to solve the problem within the existing structures and programs that have failed to end hunger thusfar. “While not a blueprint for ending hunger, the report contains several common-sense 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, CEO of Feeding America.
Below are the 20 recommendations that were proposed within 5 overall categories. We are excited to see that many of the changes to child nutrition programs that we’re supporting through Child Nutrition Reauthorization have been included in Section II, and that many of the suggested pilot projects and changes to SNAP reflect program changes we’ve been talking about for many years.
I. Make improvements to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (10 recommendations in three categories: work, nutrition, and wellbeing)
1. Encourage a greater focus on job placement, job training, and career development among SNAP recipients, and ensure necessary supports and infrastructure to facilitate finding work.
2. Ensure SNAP eligibility incentivizes work by improving responsiveness to earned-income fluctuations.
3. Encourage the use of financial incentives to SNAP recipients to facilitate the purchase of fruits, vegetables, high-quality proteins, whole grains, and other healthy foods.
4. Exclude a carefully defined class of sugar-sweetened beverages from the list of allowable purchases with SNAP benefits.
5. Use evidence-based product placement strategies that encourage purchase of healthy products with SNAP benefits, and tie it to SNAP eligibility for stores.
6. Reform SNAP Nutrition Education (SNAP-Ed) to ensure that efforts are likely to lead to measurable improvements in the health of SNAP recipients.
7. Continue to promote and facilitate greater coordination of means-tested programs across federal and state agencies and provide state incentives for establishing a “no wrong door” approach between SNAP and non-nutrition family support programs.
8. The USDA should use its current flexibility to the greatest extent possible to support state innovations that would help clients become more food secure and more self-sufficient, and should approve or disapprove these requests within 90 days of submission.
9. Create mechanisms for improved training for front-line SNAP caseworkers to maintain a customer service perspective that facilitates best practices of case management.
10. Support the wellbeing of families that have members who serve or have served in the US Military.
II. Make improvements to child nutrition programs (4 recommendations)
11. Improve access to summer feeding programs and congregate meals by reconsidering requirements for rural areas.
12. Change area eligibility for reimbursement of summer feeding from 50% of children eligible for free or reduced price school meals to 40% to help reach children in rural and suburban areas.
13. Make the summer EBT option available by creating a mechanism that allows communities to apply for it if they can clearly demonstrate a barrier to congregate feeding related to remoteness, climate, or safety.
14. Streamline and simplify administrative processes among the child nutrition programs.
III. Improvements to nutrition assistance options for people who are disabled or medically at risk (2 recommendations)
15. Expand Medicare managed care plans to include coverage for meal delivery for seniors with physician recommendation.
16. Expand Medicaid managed care plans to include coverage, with a physician recommendation, for meal delivery for individuals who are too young for Medicare, but who are at serious medical risk or have a disability.
IV. Fund pilot programs to test the effectiveness of strategic interventions to reduce and eliminate hunger (1 recommendation, 4 pilots)
17. Congress should allot funds to the USDA to implement, evaluate, and disseminate results of multiple pilot programs to assess their effectiveness on reducing hunger.
Pilot A: Investigate the effect of hunger on changing the SNAP benefit calculation from the Thrifty Food Plan to the Low Cost Food Plan.
Pilot B: Test the effect on working families of three different increases to the earnings disregard compared to the current 20%.
Pilot C: Test the impact on hunger of increasing the maximum excess shelter deduction/allowance in SNAP. Focus test demonstrations on the five markets with the highest housing costs.
Pilot D: Further assess the effectiveness of public and private forms of nutrition education on purchasing habits, nutrient intake, health, and food insecurity, and conduct meta-analyses to better understand and build on collective evidence across these domains.
V. Incentivize and expand corporate, nonprofit, and public partnerships to addressing hunger in civil society (1 recommendation)
18. Incentivize and expand civic engagement efforts on reducing and eliminating hunger.
VI. Create a White House Leadership Council to End Hunger that includes participation by a broad group of government and non-government stakeholders (2 recommendations).
19. Establish a mechanism for cross-agency collaboration to facilitate improved public assistance programming and evaluation through enhanced technology, data sharing, and coordinated funding streams that protect effective programs and encourage coordinated efforts to address larger issues of poverty.
20. The White House Leadership Council to End Hunger and its members should monitor hunger at the federal and state level, with a specific emphasis on the following at-risk populations:
b) single parent households with young children
c) people with disabilities
d) veterans and active duty military
e) American Indians
f) those reentering society from prison
g) survivors of violence, abuse, and neglect
h) immigrants (including documented and undocumented, asylum seekers and refugees)
Finally, the report ends with a statement acknowledging that while individuals should be expected to work hard to provide for themselves, there is a larger system at work that has an important role as well:
“At various points in this report, we have said that personal choices and individual responsibility are factors associated with hunger in America. But there is another aspect of personal responsibility at work: personal responsibility extends to all. Everyone can take direct actions to reduce hunger. Each of us should extend compassion for and help to our neighbors and get involved in hunger relief efforts in our communities. We need more of that kind of personal responsibility, too. With it, we will end hunger in the United States.”