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'This is just the beginning' What the White House's hunger conference means for Ohio

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Alejandro Figueroa
/
WYSO

The White House Conference on Hunger and Nutrition was Thursday. It brought several anti hunger advocates, farmers, nutritionists, community leaders and policymakers to discuss solutions for hunger and healthy eating in the United States.

10% of households across the country were food insecure in 2021, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In Ohio, reports indicate there’s about 1.3 million people experiencing food insecurity. Several policy makers discussed solutions to addressing the issue at the conference — which hadn’t been held since the Nixon administration.

That same week, the White House published its National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition and Health, an ambitious, detailed plan with initiatives involving federal, state and non-government agencies on directives to end hunger by 2030.

Some of the goals include improving food access by expanding Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program eligibility to more underserved populations, expanding free school meal access and investing in underserved communities that lack access to healthy and affordable foods.

Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, the executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, was at the conference. She spoke with WYSO’s Alejandro Figueroa about the national plan to end hunger and what it means for Ohioans. 

Transcript (edited lightly for length and clarity):

Lisa Hamber-Fugitt: This is just the beginning. And I think it's really important that while they're all of these energies that went around the convening of the first White House conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health, that for the first one in 50 years, this is the beginning of a conversation and more importantly, a beginning of rolling up our sleeves for the kind of transformational work that we need to do in achieving these goals over the next eight years.

Alejandro Figueroa: There’s this big goal to end hunger and increase healthy eating by 2030. How did you understand the federal government would do this?

Hamler-Fugitt: One I mean, the president has said that this needs to be a whole of government, meaning that we have to work through every agency of the federal government. We can't be siloed any longer. But in order to make sure that this is effective, we need the whole of the private sector as well.

So it's going to have to be really bold, goal driven initiatives where we have businesses and philanthropy and community based organizations that are also making investments and carrying out our work.

Figueroa: What role will state governments like Ohio and non-government agencies like the Ohio Association of Foodbanks play towards reaching some of those initiatives?

Hamler-Fugitt: Well, one, it's going to be able to fortify and amplify the work that we already do at the association. We've always taken a holistic approach. We're just not about the distribution of food. We're into SNAP outreach. So we're going to continue and amplify and expand the work that we already do. What we’re going to do is bring more providers and corporations into this work together. We need to have new approaches and new innovations. So we’re going to continue to work, especially in the area of diet related diseases, to make sure that the people that are standing in our food lines have the information, but also the resources to be able to manage those diet related diseases.

Figueroa: What can Ohio do right now to minimize the impact of hunger and food insecurity as some of those government agencies begin to address some of the provisions laid out in this plan?

Hamler-Fugitt: I think that there was overwhelming agreement among everybody that attended this conference that the one very achievable thing that we can do as Americans together for our kids who have been so hard hit as a result of COVID, is the reinstitution of universal free meal, school meals for all children. School, breakfast, lunch and afternoon snacks. That is a pandemic era policy that worked. It has proven success, proven results. And that is one thing that's achievable that we could do now.

Figueroa: At the state level, what kind of impact do you see this national strategy on hunger plan having?

Hamler-Fugitt: One, we're going to reduce health care costs if we're successful. And the major driver, not only of the state budget in Ohio, but in every state in the nation, in our federal government, in our own personal budgets, is what we spend on health care. If we can begin to bend the health care cost curve that’s less money on treating disease, and that's going to be dollars that we can reinvest somewhere else. That may be education, it may be community, it may be housing, it may be long term opportunities towards achieving economic self-sufficiency.

If we want to end hunger and reduce diet related diseases by 2030 and really start to close the disparities that affect too many of our communities and our most impacted people. We can only do that by coming together.

Alejandro Figueroa is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Support for WYSO's reporting on food and food insecurity in the Miami Valley comes from the CareSource Foundation.

Alejandro Figueroa covers food insecurity and the business of food for WYSO through Report for America — a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Alejandro particularly covers the lack of access to healthy and affordable food in Southwest Ohio communities, and what local government and nonprofits are doing to address it. He also covers rural and urban farming