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Ending child hunger in New York is possible

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Thanks to leadership on Capitol Hill and in the White House, we have the opportunity to end hunger by 2030. 

Not just reduce it. Not just fight it. End it. 

That may sound naïve. But as someone who has spent most of my career working to end child hunger here in New York, I know the goal is achievable here and across the country. 

Later this month, for the first time in more than 50 years, the White House is convening a Conference on Food, Nutrition, Hunger and Health. It could be a watershed moment. The last time a summit like this was convened, it led to creation of programs like free school lunches and supplemental food assistance for women and children—initiatives that became cornerstones in the fight against poverty and hunger. 

With the right mix of new and expanded efforts, we can meet President Biden’s 2030 goal. No Kid Hungry is headed to the White House with a slate of policy recommendations we know will make a difference. And we’ll need the backing of the White House and our New York congressional delegation to pass and fund them. 

The timing could not be more urgent. 

This past week, new Census Bureau figures showed emergency aid programs during the pandemic succeeded in cutting child poverty last year. But those programs, ranging from monthly checks for parents to increased food assistance, have since expired or are set to expire.  

While many families are thankfully earning paychecks again, the loss of all that extra assistance alongside the rapidly rising cost of essentials like groceries and rent are again sending child poverty and food insecurity climbing.  

Now is the time to reverse the upswing in food insecurity. 

Child hunger is a problem we know how to solve. We can use this month’s conference in Washington to set a new national agenda.  

Let’s start with schools, because for millions of kids, school breakfast and lunch are the healthiest and most reliable meals they eat. During the pandemic, federal waivers allowed school districts to offer those meals for free to all students, shielding many children from hunger during the crisis. That waiver expired in June of this year, leaving families in the lurch.  

We need a renewed push to let more school districts offer free meals to all kids who need them, like we already do in places like New York City. By expanding the Community Eligibility Provision, we can ensure all kids have access to the nutrition they need to do well in school, while streamlining meal service and removing the stigma too often associated with school meals.  

Next, we need to target summertime, the hungriest time of the year. We know that when schools let out, millions of kids get cut off from the healthiest meals—and sometimes the only meals—they eat.  

During the pandemic, schools and local organizations were given the flexibility to serve summer meals in the ways that worked best for their community, whether that meant setting up drive-thru meal sites or sending home multiple meals at a time. And it worked — during that time the program reached many more children, with participation increasing 200 percent nationwide.   

At the same time, eligible families in New York received grocery benefits of roughly $375 for the summer on an EBT card, helping to buy nutritious food at home while schools were closed. Now is our chance to take those lessons and bring summer meals into the 21st century with permanent national programs built on our pandemic successes. 

Third, we need to modernize our most effective food benefits: SNAP and WIC, which provide families extra money for groceries. More than 2.8 million New Yorkers rely on SNAP. But as helpful as these programs are, they are trapped in a different era. The strict income cut-offs leave out far too many families in need and the benefits themselves haven’t kept up with the rising cost of food. 

We should expand access to these programs and increase benefits. And we should make it easier for families to use WIC and SNAP to buy groceries online like every other American.  

The White House was right to start this conversation. We need New York’s congressional delegation to use its muscle in the House and Senate to do their part to make the president’s goal a reality. With key legislation like Child Nutrition Reauthorization and the farm bill coming up, they’ll have an opportunity to introduce new programs and expand others.  

This is a once in a generation chance to tackle a problem that unites all Americans.  

Let’s get it done, and make child hunger history. 

Rachel Sabella is the director of No Kid Hungry New York. 

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