The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2022 (the Omnibus) calls for a White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, Hunger, and Health. In the Explanatory Statement for the Labor-HHS section, (not in the statute) the Appropriations Committees recognize the high level of hunger and food insecurity in the United States. It tells HHS to put together a whole of government plan for a conference and report back to Congress in not more than 120 days.
Congressman Jim McGovern, D-Mass, Chairman of the Rules Committee, has been a champion in this effort along with Senator Cory Booker, D-NJ. Given that Representative Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., chairs the House Appropriations Committee and its Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, and has been a strong proponent for food assistance programs, it shouldn’t be surprising that HHS is given $2.5 million to support the conference.
President Richard Nixon hosted the first, and only, White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health in 1969. It led to many of the nutrition programs established or expanded in the 1970’s under the leadership of Senators George McGovern and Bob Dole. The programs included food stamps (now SNAP) school lunch and breakfast, WIC (the Special Supplemental Feeding Program for Women, Infants and Children), TEFAP, and others. It also led to the creation of the nutrition labeling system and all the nutrition labels we see on food items.
This next conference will not necessarily be structured with the format used in the 1969 conference. There are still COVID concerns, and it is unclear when it will be held.
The federal government has been very supportive of nutrition programs. The programs, combined, are funded at nearly $174 billion as part of this appropriations bill – the most ever. But clearly there is still a major hunger problem. Food banks cannot keep up with the demand. School food authorities are being stretched in ways we could not have imagined. WIC nutrition standards are already scheduled for review. The Conference will have to examine the structure of the programs, supply chain issues, the ineffective Buy America provision in current law, and nutrition security, among other issues.
Secretary Vilsack has elevated the importance of nutrition standards in addition to nutrition security and they most certainly will play a role in any Conference. He has pointed to the link between nutrition and health, so the involvement of HHS will be of particular interest.
Some of the issues likely to be considered include:
- The adequacy of the Thrifty Food Plan even after its recent revision.
- New nutrition criteria for WIC.
- Improving Buy American requirements.
- How to recognize that investment in good nutrition programs reduces health care costs over time.
- Supply chain disruptions.
- And, possibly, global implications of food production.
Keep in mind that this conference is very likely to extend beyond USDA food assistance programs. The ability of people to get jobs, the amount that they are paid, the conditions under which they must work, are all elements that Congressman McGovern has raised regarding an individual’s ability to take care of themselves and their families. A White House conference provides the opportunity for such a wholistic approach to essential personal needs.
The language that accompanied the Omnibus legislation in its entirety is below.
“The agreement recognizes that levels of hunger, nutrition insecurity, and chronic disease in the United States are rising, and disproportionately afflict racial and ethnic minorities as well as low-income and rural populations. The agreement directs HHS to convene a White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, Hunger, and Health in 2022, for the purpose of developing a roadmap to end hunger and improve nutrition by 2030. The agreement includes $2,500,000 to support this conference. The conference should be developed using a whole-of-government approach- in partnership with the Executive Office of the President, the Department of Agriculture, and other Federal agencies-and in consultation with State, territories, local, and Tribal officials, and a diverse group of interested parties from across the country, including anti-hunger, nutrition, and health experts; the private sector; and people with lived experience of hunger and nutrition insecurity. The conference should examine why hunger and nutrition insecurity persist and how they affect health, including their role in the high prevalence of chronic disease. It should also review existing and cross-departmental strategies and consider new approaches to improve health by eliminating hunger, reducing the prevalence of chronic disease, and improving access to and consumption of nutritious foods in accordance with Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The conference shall produce a final report detailing its findings and proposed solutions to end hunger and improve nutrition security in the United States by 2030.
In preparation for the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, Hunger, and Health, HHS shall consult with other Federal agencies and report initial findings to the Committees no later than 120 days after enactment of this Act. The findings shall identify current programming that directly or indirectly impacts food and nutrition insecurity and diet related diseases; specific statutory, regulatory, and budgetary barriers to ending hunger and improving nutrition and health in the United States and the Territories; existing examples of coordination mechanisms between Federal agencies; Federal agencies and State, local, and Tribal governments; and all levels of government and program implementers; and additional authorities or resources needed to eliminate hunger and improve nutrition and health.”
Marshall Matz is Chairman of OFW Law in Washington. He was formerly General Counsel to the Senate Nutrition Committee. Roger Szemraj is a partner at OFW Law.For more opinions and ag news, visit www.Agri-Pulse.com.