To: The Biden/Harris Presidential Transition Team
From: Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America
Subject: How a Biden/Harris Administration Can Help Defeat Covid-19, Increase the Long-Term Life Expectancy for All Americans, Reduce Racial and Gender Disparities, Bolster Public Education, and Build Back Our Economy Better by Ending Domestic Hunger, Slashing Poverty, Improving Nutrition For All Americans, Boosting Small and Medium-Size Farmers, Saving the Restaurant Industry, Fixing Our Broken Food System, and Creating Food-Related Jobs in Rural, Urban, and Suburban America
“Hunger today isn’t about scarcity — it’s about a massive failure in leadership.”
- Joe Biden, May 24, 2020
The Biden/Harris Administration should announce and implement a detailed plan to end hunger among children and older Americans by 2024, and all domestic hunger by 2028, as part of the first-ever comprehensive, federal government-wide, strategy on food issues. The broader strategy should fix our broken food system by: bolstering small and medium-size farms; increasing affordable choices for nutritious food for all Americans; ramping-up nutrition education and research; creating a large new AmeriCorps project to combine criminal justice reform with anti-hunger and anti-poverty work; saving the restaurant industry; better protecting food safety; and launching a “Food Jobs Initiative” to create living wage jobs in urban, rural, and suburban communities.
Such efforts should be carried out in tandem with the Administration’s comprehensive efforts to overhaul all our economic and social policies in order to strengthen the middle class, build the economy back better, slash poverty, and boost economic opportunity and mobility.
Even pre-pandemic, hunger and poor nutrition were one of the top causes of early death in the U.S., especially among low-income Americans and people of color. During the pandemic – because food insecurity compromises immune systems and increases comorbidities like obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and heat disease – Americans who are malnourished are more likely to contract, transmit, and die from COVID-19. Thus, improving nutrition for all Americans is a prerequisite to both defeating the current pandemic and increasing the long-term life expectancy of Americans (and decreasing health care spending).
Hungry students can’t study effectively. Hungry workers can’t work productively. Hunger fuels civil unrest. People who can’t afford enough food are more likely to be entrapped by the criminal justice system. People of color and households headed by women disproportionately suffer from food insecurity. Ending domestic hunger is consequently also a prerequisite to improving public education, rebuilding our economy, strengthening the middle class, reducing racial disparities, and enacting meaningful criminal justice reform.
Ending hunger would significantly aid red, blue, and purple states alike.
Ending hunger is also a central tenet of every religious and secular ethical tradition on the planet. Ending hunger would lift us all, both economically and morally.
In short, in order to achieve the very top goal of the Biden/Harris Administration – healing the nation and bringing us all together – the nation must end U.S. hunger and ensure access to nutritious food for all.
Hunger Free America’s recommendations in this memo are based on two things: a) lessons that our organization has learned in decades of effective direct service and advocacy work at the grassroots level around the country; and b) the views of low-income Americans (people earning $50,000 or less annually), which we just solicited from both a randomized poll of 750 adults nationwide and a series of focus groups.
We propose the Biden/Harris Administration take the following steps, which would require a mix of executive and legislative actions:
White House and Administration-Wide Solutions on Economic Opportunity
- Create, under the White House Domestic Policy Council, a White House Office of Mobility, Inclusion, and Opportunity to coordinate government-wide domestic anti-poverty efforts.
- Implement the major Biden/Harris campaign pledges to boost economic opportunity and
mobility and make key costs of living more affordable.
- Enact a broad “Assets Empowerment/Middle Class Wealth Generation Agenda.”
- Advance H.O.PE. Accounts and Actions Plans to help low-income people simultaneously apply for multiple benefits and enable them to voluntary work with charities and government agencies to achieve long-term self-advancement benchmarks.
- Implement a government-wide, coordinated plan to enable eligible low-income Americans to simultaneously obtain Earned Income Tax (EITC) payments, SNAP benefits, government-supported health care, unemployment benefits, and other vital government benefits.
- Expand and improve AmeriCorps and create a Peace, Justice, and Opportunity Corps as part of AmeriCorps.
- Overhaul TANF to make it better support families and enable long-term economic advancement.
Administration-Wide Hunger, Food, and Nutrition Solutions Coordinated by the White House
- Create, under the White House Domestic Policy Council, a White House Office of Food Security and Nutrition to coordinate government-wide anti-hunger, food systems, and nutrition improvement work.
- Announce and implement a comprehensive anti-hunger, nutrition, and food plan.
- Make federal nutrition programs easier to obtain and ensure they cover the full costs of nutritious food.
- USDA and FDA should jointly overhaul food labeling to ensure that all labels are large, clear, and accurate and base their serving sizes on what real people actually eat.
- HHS and USDA should work together to adopt a national food point system—tied to an easy-to-use smartphone app—to simplify and personalize daily nutritional choices for consumers.
- Create a Food Jobs Initiative by providing targeted seed money and technical assistance to food-related businesses, in a way that creates living wage jobs, fights hunger, and reduces food waste.
- Take bold, immediate actions to save the restaurant industry.
- Launch a “moonshot on nutrition research” to intensify and improve coordination of nutrition in order to reduce the breadth, severity, and cost of diet-related diseases.
- Merge the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and make them a single, independent federal agency in charge of food safety.
- Provide federal funds and encouragement to build nutrition science fully into the curricula of medical schools, where it is woefully under-taught.
- Expand the availability and nutritional quality of meals for older Americans through Meals on Wheels and congregate (senior center) meals programs.
USDA-Level Solutions on Hunger, Food, and Nutrition
- Create within USDA an Office of Food Security and Nutrition, reporting directly to the
Secretary, to coordinate anti-hunger, food systems, and nutrition improvement work
- Carry out the Biden/Harris pledges to small and medium-size farmers.
- Roll back Trump Administration rules that tried to make it harder for low-income families to obtain and keep SNAP – including the public charge, categorical eligibility, ABAWD, and heat-and-eat rules.
- Use all existing legal authorities under current law to increase participation, boost benefit sizes, and reduce paperwork and bureaucracy for beneficiaries and program administrators alike in all USDA nutrition assistance programs.
- Increase SNAP benefits by replacing the "thrifty" food plan with the "low cost" food plan in order to help families purchase food for the entire month, not just the first couple of weeks, and afford healthier food.
- Increase the minimum SNAP benefit from the current level of $16 per month to a new level of $50 per month.
- Increase the income cutoff for SNAP eligibility (currently at 130% of the federal poverty line in most instances) to 200% of the federal poverty line and slowly ramp down benefits for people earning above that, while eliminating assets limits for SNAP.
- Make it easier for low-income college students to obtain SNAP.
- Reinvent how SNAP relates to unemployed people by replacing the status quo under which people who are unable to find work are also denied food with a new system that truly empowers unemployed SNAP recipients to obtain and maintain living wage employment.
- Make it easier for SNAP recipients to use their benefits online to order food (including food from corner stores and farmers’ markets) and get food delivered to their homes.
- Allow SNAP to be used for hot meals, meals prepared to be eaten away from home, and restaurant meals.
- Make it easier for people with smart phones to use SNAP, Pandemic-EBT, and WIC benefits and make it easier to use SNAP and WIC benefits at farmers’ markets, farm stands, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) projects.
- Eliminate the requirement that SNAP applicants and people re-certifying for SNAP need to provide an interview (in addition to legally binding written applications) and also extend SNAP re-certification periods.
- Ensure sufficient federal reimbursements to provide all students of all family incomes in all elementary, middle, and high schools nationwide with tasty, nutritious breakfasts, lunches, afterschool suppers, and summer meals—locally and regionally sourced and sustainably produced whenever possible—free of charge, with no required paperwork.
- Roll back the Trump Administration’s attempts to water down the improved nutritional standards that First Lady Michelle Obama and the previous Congresses championed.
- Expand summer meals programs for kids by opening them to parents, allowing meals to be eaten offsite, and expanding the Summer EBT pilot project that gives extra food money directly to low-income families with kids.
- Make the federal Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC)—which provides nutritional supplements to low-income pregnant woman and children under five—an entitlement program so it will always have sufficient funding to ensure that everyone who qualifies for the help can get it.
- Make permanent the pandemic-time waivers to states that remove barriers for remote issuance of WIC benefits, so that participants will still not have to come into clinics to pick up WIC EBT cards and/or paper coupons.
- Provide start-up and operating subsidies for CSAs and fresh produce basket programs that serve low-income people and neighborhoods.
- Increase funding for the USDA National Hunger Clearinghouse, which has been funded at only $250,000 per year for more than a decade, to reflect the reality that the use of the clearinghouse and its hunger hotline have skyrocketed.
Read the full memo: