Availability of good food is a problem for the poor in America. It is not a problem for middle class and richer Americans. However Americans of all incomes frequently make poor choices about food.
The Green New Deal proposes to make healthy and affordable food available to all Americans. There are a number of established programs to draw from, ranging from proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which helps get food to poor people, to templates for local planning departments trying to fight food insecurity and hunger.
People have been talking about getting more nutritious food into inner city grocery stores for a generation, though, without much in the way of results. As poverty is just as real and just as pervasive in rural counties, a different approach is warranted.
In 2017, an estimated 1 in 8 Americans were food insecure, equating to 40 million Americans including more than 12 million children. That percentage hasn’t changed since 1995. Our approach for the past twenty years has failed.
Federal expenditures for USDA’s 15 food and nutrition assistance programs totaled $98.6 billion in fiscal 2017, or 4 percent less than the previous fiscal year. This was almost 10 percent less than the historical high of $109.2 billion set in fiscal 2013. Expenditures decreased by 4 percent for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and by 6 percent for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) in fiscal 2017. Expenditures for the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program, remained about the same.
More than 3 generations ago, President Roosevelt emphasized the need to protect basic human freedoms—including “freedom from want.” It was his administration that launched development of the Charter of the United Nations, and, ultimately, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. More than 60 years later, however, the United States is the only nation besides Australia that refuses to embrace the right to food, perhaps the most basic form of freedom from want.
If you look at the basic numbers–current spending of $98 billion for 40 million people–some things come quickly to mind. First, the level of spending is almost adequate to the task, at $2,450 per person.
The average food cost for a U.S. household was $6,602 in 2013. That’s roughly $2,641 annually per person.
However, the administrative costs of the 15 USDA programs are high–the typical SNAP recipient gets $126 per month, or $1,512 per year. Some consolidation is perhaps in order. And some czar or master coordinator should be looking to make sure that individuals are in fact getting about $2,641 a year in either food assistance, food or (dare we say it)… cash.
Which brings up the discussion of Universal Basic Incomes. But that’s for another post. So is a topic not even broached here–helping Americans make smarter food choices regardless of their income or lack thereof.
Freedom from want, as put forward by President Roosevelt, should be recognized and embraced. Just as healthcare is fast becoming a recognized ‘right’ in the developed world (and an aspiration in the developing countries), so too should freedom from hunger be something we say is a minimum for our country.
Green New Deal Recommendation: Consolidate all USDA programs to reduce overheads. Increase funding to insure that hungry and food insecure households receive an inflation indexed amount of $2,641 per person. This will require increased funding. Let’s be pessimistic and say it doubles to $200 billion a year. As other GND programs take hold and poverty decreases and education advances, the number of people requiring this assistance will hopefully decrease as well. But even if it doesn’t, a great country, a country with a great heart, will not allow hunger to exist alongside affluence.