Vilsack briefs White House press corps on nutrition, answers other questions
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack shows a Summer EBT card at today’s White House press briefing. Screenshot photo
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack appeared today, May 6, at the White House press briefing to talk about food and nutrition security, but he was also asked about whether USDA has enough money to fund its ambitious nutrition agenda, and about a copper mine in Minnesota, aid to minority farmers and whether he has the authority to start a carbon bank.
Vilsack said that he believes USDA has enough money to pay for free school meals through the 2021-2022 school year. While government lawyers handle lawsuits brought by white farmers against the program for debt relief for minority farmers, USDA will proceed with the program, Vilsack said.
On whether he has the authority to start a carbon bank, Vilsack said USDA has “enormous capacity, an enormous set of tools that can be used to provide the resources to work with the farm community to embrace this future,” but acknowledged that USDA “needs congressional approval in the sense that you have resources in all of these programs that require funding.”
Vilsack added, “We have a lot of flexibility already at USDA, and we’re going to be utilizing that flexibility in a way that creates more, new, and better markets. And I think farmers are going to find that to be a very — they’re going to be very agreeable with that.”
Vilsack also noted that he and 25 farmers had met with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan and that Regan had done a “terrific job.” The meeting took place in Iowa.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki noted at the briefing that the first political campaign on which she worked was Vilsack’s 2002 campaign for governor of Iowa.
In his formal remarks, Vilsack told the White House press corps that when the American Rescue Plan was enacted, hunger in the United States was at 14% of the population but has now gone down to 8% in a six-month period.
“It is a result of extending SNAP [the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] as we did in the American Rescue Plan; creating a Summer EBT program that will institute opportunities for nearly 30 million children to have access to nutrition during the summer months; increasing our commitment to WIC [the Special Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children]; and basically making a down payment, if you will, on hunger reduction,” Vilsack said.
Vilsack continued, “There are three key investments for nutrition and food security in the American Families Plan. First, we are going to make permanent this incredible and historic effort to feed kids during the summer months. There are, as I said, nearly 30 million American children who are in free- and reduced-lunch status in schools.
“At the end of the school year, there is no program, other than the summer feeding program, which impacted and affected several million of those 30 million children. Now we have the opportunity to provide each one of these families with a card that looks like this,” he said as he held up a plastic ID card.
“This is the Summer EBT card that’s available. It allows parents the opportunity to go to the grocery store — as they do with their SNAP card — and be able to purchase additional fruits and vegetables and other wholesome food for their children, ensuring that 30 million kids will have the opportunity to have nutrition during the summer, which means that they’ll be better prepared to begin school ready to learn in the fall.
“We’re also extending, with this effort, the opportunity to impact free school meals in high-poverty school areas by focusing on the Community Eligibility Program that essentially identifies the ability of a school district where SNAP participation is roughly 40% to extend free meals to everyone in that school.
“This is going to expand opportunities for youngsters to be well fed. And we know from a recent Tufts study that one of the healthiest places in the country for children to eat is now in America’s schools. So we’re going to see that extended, and we’re going to focus — with a specific, laser-like focus — on elementary schools to make sure that our youngest learners have the best possible opportunity.
“And finally, we’re going to invest a billion dollars, with Congress’ help and assistance, in trying to figure out strategies that will improve, even more than we already have, the nutritional value and quality of the meals that youngsters receive in schools.
“So, these three steps — these three key investments of the American Families Plan — will allow us to cement the gains under the American Rescue Plan and, hopefully, impact and reduce hunger to the point, eventually, one day, where we won’t have to have a press conference about … about hunger.”
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