Thompson to mayors: Be ‘at table’ on nutrition; McGovern worried

By Jerry Hagstrom, The Hagstrom Report
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., said Wednesday he hopes the nation’s mayors will be “at the table” rather than “on the menu” when the nutrition programs come up during the farm bill debate.
Thompson made the comment at an event sponsored by the Mayors Alliance to End Hunger, a nonpartisan coalition of more than 130 mayors working to ensure every child has the healthy food needed to thrive. The event was held at the offices of Share Our Strength, an anti-hunger group.
In the past, Thompson has been critical of the way the Biden administration updated the Thrifty Food Plan, an Agriculture Department program that plays a role in determining the level of benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
But Thompson made no critical comments on Wednesday about the administration’s handling of nutrition programs. After John Giles, the mayor of Mesa, Ariz., and the chair of the alliance, said mayors need to be the “chief food security officers” in their communities, Thompson said he appreciated that statement because mayors are often the first to see problems.
Thompson told the mayors that participating in the farm bill debate over nutrition programs and educating members of Congress would be a good investment of their time. He did say that he considers assessment and evaluation of needs and programs to be important, and urged the mayors to participate in that process. He also said he believes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education program is important.
SNAP-Ed partners with state and local organizations to teach people how to stretch their SNAP dollars, how to shop for and cook healthy meals, and how to stay physically active.
Other Republicans have suggested that SNAP be one of the programs that Democrats should agree to cut to get Republicans to support lifting the ceiling on federal debt, but Thompson did not comment on those proposals.
But Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., the former chairman of the House Rules Committee and a longtime nutrition leader, said at the mayors’ event he is concerned that, with the debt ceiling under consideration, Republicans want to cut SNAP along with other social programs.
Thompson told the mayors they could be “so helpful” in educating the more than 200 members of Congress who were not in office for the 2018 farm bill, including some who are going to serve on the agriculture committee in this Congress.
But Thompson said SNAP is not the only way to get food to people in need. He noted the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, support for food banks and pantries, and programs to distribute fresh fruits and vegetables, milk and meat. He said those programs are particularly important in communities, both urban and rural, that don’t have many grocery stores.
Thompson said he wants to pass a farm bill that is effective across all the titles and that every title, including nutrition, should incorporate an emphasis on science, technology and innovation.
McGovern said he wants “a farm bill that upholds the values of people in this room.” He urged the mayors to “hold us accountable” and to inform members of Congress if proposals to complicate the application process for nutrition programs emerge.
“My priority is to make sure no one screws around with SNAP,” he added.
He said that since the COVID-19 pandemic, the value of benefits has risen from $1.40 to $2.40, but with the pandemic ending, the value will go down to $2.
“It would be a mistake to go backwards” on nutrition in the farm bill, McGovern said, adding that it is important to point out that a lot of people on SNAP are working and a lot of college students need SNAP.
McGovern also told the mayors that they can take action at the local level by encouraging schools to put in community gardens and greenhouses and by teaching kids to cook. He also urged the mayors to encourage their state governments to pass universal free school meals.
“Congress is never without drama,” Thompson said, but noted that the farm bill has always passed on a bipartisan basis.
Before the panel discussion, Laura Carroll, the policy adviser for agriculture and rural policy at the White House Domestic Policy Council, and several mayors spoke.
She said the Biden administration is determined to follow up on the strategy unveiled at the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health to end hunger and diet-related diseases by 2030.
Carroll said that includes also improving transportation and parks so that people get physical exercise as well as nutritious foods.
Giles noted that Mesa is “is a pretty red environment,” meaning it leans Republican, but said his work with former First Lady Michelle Obama on veteran homelessness was popular and that the pandemic had “opened eyes” about the issue of hunger, especially among seniors and children.
Sharon Weston Broome, the mayor-president of Baton Rouge, La., and vice chair of the alliance, said that in her community one of out every four children is impacted by hunger and that people are having a hard time keeping food on the table and balancing work and personal lives.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams said ending childhood hunger does not mean just “caloric consumption.
”The task, Adams, said, is getting children healthy food. When he was a child growing up in the Queens borough of New York, he said, he relied on donated processed cheese and powdered eggs but those were “not feeding us but feeding chronic diseases.”
In New York, he said, “we are not going to take the easy path” and noted that New York City schools have meatless Mondays and plant-powered Fridays. The schools and prisons are also serving culturally sensitive foods but in a healthy form, he said.
Adams said he wants to “dam every river that feeds food insecurity in our city” because when it appeared he would go blind “I changed my diet, I changed my destiny.” Adams has credited a new vegan diet with saving his eyesight when he temporarily lost it in 2016 after contracting Type 2 diabetes.
Lisa Davis, the senior vice president at Share Our Strength, said in conclusion, “Mayoral leadership is integral to the fight against childhood hunger.”
They see first-hand the impact of this crisis in their communities and are uniquely positioned to creatively and successfully build awareness and drive solutions,” Davis said.
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