Anti-hunger advocates lobby on debt ceiling bill, farm bill, approps
More than 1,000 anti-hunger advocates are planning to lobby on Capitol Hill Tuesday to urge members of Congress to pass a clean debt ceiling bill without any increased work requirements on nutrition program beneficiaries and to put more money into nutrition programs in the farm bill and this year’s appropriations bills.
The advocates are attending the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference, which is cosponsored by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) and Feeding America and the CACFP Forum, the support group for the Child and Adult Care Feeding Program. It is their first in-person conference since 2020.
The advocates will call on members of Congress and their staff members and leave behind sheets of paper calling for action on the farm bill, listing budget and appropriations priorities, increased support for school meals including universal free meals, and tax credits for low-income families.
Organizers said another 600 advocates are attending the conference virtually and will lobby Congress by visiting members’ state and district offices or by contacting the offices virtually.
Before visiting congressional offices today, the attendees gathered in the Kennedy Caucus Room of the Russell Senate Office Building for a breakfast featuring Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., who was described at the conference on Monday as the anti-hunger community’s current “hero.” McGovern, a longtime member of the House Agriculture Committee and the former chairman and now ranking member on the House Rules Committee, has said he will oppose a farm bill that makes any cuts to nutrition programs.
At a luncheon session Monday, FRAC President Luis Guardia said that “there is a lot at stake” in Congress right now.
Guardia said that, first of all, a bill to increase the government’s ability to borrow money to pay its bill should not include a measure to impose work requirements on any beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which used to be known as food stamps.
The bill Republicans passed in the House to address the debt ceiling includes a measure to raise the work requirement age for a category of SNAP beneficiaries known as Able-Bodied Adults without Dependents (ABAWDs) from 49 to 55.
The Republicans have said that the bill would lead to more people in that age group working, but Guardia said that such a requirement would not increase incomes or employment but rather increase hardship and hunger.
Low-income people, Guardia said, are struggling to pay for rent and water and food.
“Congress needs to know this is unacceptable,” Guardia said.
He also noted that the last few years have been marked by accomplishments including pandemic aid and the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health.
Stephanie Slingerland of the Kellogg Company, a longtime supporter of anti-hunger efforts, noted that the existence of nutrition programs provides emotional support to struggling families as well as food.
Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America, the nation’s largest network of food banks, introduced Rachel Spencer, an executive at Walmart, the nation’s largest grocer and the company at which the largest percentage of SNAP benefits are redeemed. Babineaux-Fontenot, who spent 13 years as a Walmart executive, noted that the company has made large-scale food donations and is trying to reduce food waste.
Spencer said a lot of lessons have been learned in the last few years to improve operations of nutrition programs.
Agriculture Deputy Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Stacy Dean, who served as vice president for food assistance policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), said that she is proud to work for President Biden because he believes in fighting poverty.
Dean, who is credited with the rewrite of the Thrifty Food Plan that led to an increase in SNAP benefits, said that hunger should not be solved by food programs alone but by improvements in the economy to benefit low-income people.
“We’re not done yet. We are calling for more,” Dean said. She noted that the end of pandemic aid will mean more demand at food banks and said the administration is trying to help with that.
During her speech, Dean praised the advocates for their activism and the decision to bring people with what anti-hunger leaders call “lived experience” to lobby on Capitol Hill this year.
During a panel discussion, Dean said that USDA’s role in dealing with Congress on the debt ceiling and the farm bill is to provide technical assistance. But she added that there is no evidence to support Republicans’ view that cutting back on nutrition programs would improve economic security.
“You are rock stars,” Dean said.
Before the luncheon broke up, Vince Hall and Ellen Teller, the chief government relations officers at Feeding America and FRAC, gave the attendees some lobbying lessons.
Teller said that if an attendee had not been able to schedule a meeting with a member of Congress, he or she should ask for a meeting with the staffer in charge of nutrition programs. After that meeting, Teller advised, the attendee should ask to take a picture with the aide in front of the sign outside the office door — and then ask for the member to join for the picture. That moment with the member, Teller said, would be an opportunity to present the “elevator speech” version of the anti-hunger community’s requests this year.