Analyzing some wins (and losses) during the legislative session for JFCS’ food security agenda
By Clare Gravon, JFCS Food Security Program Coordinator
Access to food has been a critical issue for so many families this past year. The pandemic created new barriers (quarantining) and exacerbated existing barriers (employment and transportation). At JFCS, we think about our food security work on three levels:
- Meeting people’s immediate needs with compassion and dignity. This often includes referrals to food shelves, meals programs, meals for kids, and even emergency food boxes. This year, for the first time, it included delivering food to people who were homebound using our Garber Transportation program. With support from The Stillman Family Foundation, JFCS launched the Food for All program, which has distributed 2,700 cases of shelf-stable nutritious snack food to 30 community-based food shelves and meals programs in the Twin Cities Metro area to date.
- Helping people find longer-term solutions that create sustainable food security for their family. Often, this involves helping people sign up for benefits such as SNAP (food stamps), Pandemic-EBT for children, school meals, or Meals on Wheels for homebound seniors. With many new, short-term programs coming online to help families during the pandemic, we worked hard to stay abreast of new or expanded benefits and to help families enroll.
- Advocating for systemic changes that make food security a reality for more people. As a member of the statewide coalition Partners to End Hunger, JFCS actively supports a food security agenda during each legislative session. Listed below is a quick recap of some wins and losses the food security agenda had during the recent session. Thank you to Hunger Solutions for its timely legislative summary.
Ending school lunch shaming
After a decade-long effort, language to end school lunch shaming was included in the final Education omnibus bill! The bill requires schools to adopt and post a school meals policy that a meal cannot be withdrawn from a student, and ensures that a student who is eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch is always served a meal even if they have outstanding debt. Going forward, throwing away meals and affixing of stickers or pins will not be allowed in Minnesota schools. “It’s very gratifying that legislators included language to prevent ‘shaming’ of students who don’t have enough money to pay for their school meals,” said Steve Krikava, JFCS Advocacy Committee member. “School breakfast and lunch play a vital role in assuring food security for students in our state. We should be looking for ways to further enhance and expand school meal programs as a way to end childhood hunger.”
Renewed funding for ‘Market Bucks’ program
This program gives SNAP (food stamp) recipients up to $10 to spend at their local farmers market on fresh produce, a win-win for low-income families and local farmers. This is the second legislative session when activists have rallied support to save this small but vital program.
Improving college student access to basic needs
Data increasingly points to the level of hunger and other basic needs on college campuses. $1 million was included to improve college student access to basic needs support.
Expanding food shelf capacity
A new competitive grant for non-profits and government entities was created to access capital dollars for $24 million.
LOSSES – Opportunities for Future Legislative Action
Investing in hunger-free schools
Funding to ensure that all Minnesota children have access to breakfast and lunch at no cost to them was not included in the final Education budget bill. Progress was made to build support for the issue and coalition partners are committed to getting it passed next session.
Expanding access to SNAP
A bill to increase the gross income threshold on SNAP from 165% to 200% of federal poverty did not survive. The coalition will continue to work on passing this bill next session.