On Friday, May 8th, BPC brought together a Republican and Democratic member of Congress to talk about food security and nutritional health amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
Given the restrictions in place, U.S. Reps. Don Bacon (R-NE-2) and Salud Carbajal (D-CA-24) met “virtually” on a video call along with school superintendents and food bank representatives from their respective Nebraska and California districts.
The discussion centered on the challenges of providing food for families in need along with safeguarding the nutritional health of vulnerable children. As summer approaches, more and more families may be left without access to healthy meals.
The conversation was part of BPC’s American Congressional Exchange program, which brings together representatives from different parties in different parts of the country to better understand the challenges they each face, and to discuss ways they can work together. Over the past two years, more than two dozen lawmakers have visited each other’s Districts through the program. Reps. Bacon and Carbajal already completed trips to one another’s districts in 2018.
“BPC has helped build our relationship,” said Bacon. “Salud and I have traveled the world together to help solve issues we both feel strongly about.”
Carbajal added, “Thanks to BPC, we have the opportunity to meet and discuss what really matters. This program has brought Don and me even closer together and provided us the opportunity to build relationships between our constituents.”
Both members’ districts play an important role in the nation’s food supply and agricultural industry.
The superintendents who joined the call said the COVID-19 crisis has magnified their schools’ role as a community service resource. The schools are not only supplying children with an education, but are also a significant source for providing meals, especially for low-income students.
Dr. Susan Salcido, the Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools, says there’s much higher demand for food in her community amidst the coronavirus crisis. She said, “Santa Barbara county is supplying over 38,000 meals every day. The only way we can continue to provide this amount of food is with both federal funding and flexibility from SNAP.”
The virtual discussion also included the heads of food banks in California and Nebraska. As more Americans have come to rely on food banks during the pandemic, they talked about the challenges facing food aid programs.
Those hurdles include the need for more funding for the staffing of school food services and food banks for the summer. The staffing for distributing the food itself has proved just as difficult as obtaining enough food.
“One of the things we need to happen is flexibility from SNAP to feed anyone who is hungry, when they’re hungry…There is a strong disconnect between where the food is coming from, and how to get it to hungry people,” said Greg Fripp, President and Founder of Omaha-based Whispering Roots.
Brian Barks, the President/CEO of Omaha’s Food Bank of the Heartland said food banks are not getting as much surplus food from the food industry because those same surpluses are drying up. Foods banks are tasked with purchasing more food than normal.
“We have seen a 40% increase in demand for food since the COVID-19 crisis began, we need to see more SNAP flexibility to ensure enough food is distributed,” he said.
In Carbajal’s district, the intake for food need has risen by an astonishing 65 percent. Erik Talkin, CEO of the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, said that, while the virus has produced an increase in the need for food, the number one reason for food insecurity right now is unemployment.
Both members of Congress ended the call with a pledge to continue working in a bipartisan fashion to ensure that no child or family is left hungry or without access to safe and nutritious food.