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Federal Food Policy Needs More Focus on Most Vulnerable, Task Force Says

Bipartisan Policy Center's Food and Nutrition Security Task Force recommends nine federal policy changes in the group's first report
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The Bipartisan Policy Center's Food and Nutrition Security Task Force, convened in May to identify ways to improve U.S. food policy to promote better access to nutritious foods for all households and reduce food insecurity, issued its first report and made nine federal policy recommendations. 

FMI President and CEO Leslie Sarasin is a co-chair of the task force, which also is led by former agriculture secretaries Dan Glickman and Ann M. Veneman as well as chef and philanthropist José Andrés, founder of World Central Kitchen.

While food insecurity in the U.S. didn't increase overall in 2020, increases were seen in households with children and in Black, non-Hispanic households, the task force noted, citing USDA data released last week. 

"This gap has implications for potentially widening racial disparities and echoes the recommendations of our task force that policy changes are needed to increase equity in food and nutrition security," said Bill Hoagland, SVP of the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

Congressional and administrative actions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including around $35 billion in Congressionally appropriated special funding for 2020 and 2021, were "decisive" in helping ensure that food security didn't decline precipitously during the pandemic, the task force's report states. But "further investment and policy changes are needed" to increase all Americans' access to affordable, nutritious foods and beverages that can help promote well-being and prevent disease, according to the task force. 

"Diet quality and food access have implications for obesity and other diet-related conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes," which on its own can put individuals at greater risk for severe illness from COVID-19, the report's authors noted. 

Against the backdrop of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Food and Nutrition Security Task Force recommended nine short- and long-term moves aimed at bolstering federal nutrition programs and nutrition security nationwide. Among the changes sought are expanded flexibility for federal agencies to be able to grant waivers during future economic downturns or public health crises to support access to nutrition programs and further investment in technology infrastructure to promote equitable access to food assistance. 

The task force also recommends working to improve access to and intake of fruits and vegetables in all forms for those participating in SNAP and other nutrition assistance programs and the creation of programs that address food and health care access as social determinants of health within communities. In addition, the group called for a White House-hosted conference on food, nutrition, hunger and health in early 2022.

"SNAP, WIC, and school meal programs are among our nation’s most important, proven, and cost-effective public interventions, and they should be bolstered if our nation is to build on the lessons learned from the COVID-19 economic and public health crisis," former Sec. Glickman said in a statement. "Giving these programs more resources and flexibilities during public health challenges will ensure they can better meet the needs of individuals and families during future emergencies."

FMI's Sarasin said that FMI and its member companies look forward to addressing the task force's recommendations with policymakers. "Reducing food insecurity is a crucial step in ensuring all Americans can enjoy more meals with their families, connecting to help build a healthier, stronger nation," she said.

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