MAZON Briefs Congress on Hunger Crisis in Rural America

May 21, 2019

Read this article as originally posted in Oregon Jewish Life.

MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger held a congressional briefing “Local Perspectives on Hunger in Rural America” on May 16, 2019, with its Emerging Advocacy Fund partners representing the most food-insecure states in the nation. The briefing provided an opportunity to address prevalent issues that underlie hunger in rural America, an often-overlooked crisis.

“Contrary to a common stereotype, food insecurity and participation in programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are more prevalent in rural communities than in urban ones. In fact, three-quarters of the counties with the highest rates of food insecurity are in rural areas, a reality made worse by the administration’s lack of interest in pursuing public policies that uplift the nation’s poorest and hungriest,” said MAZON President and CEO Abby J. Leibman. “This makes the efforts of MAZON and our partners all the more critical in advocating to help struggling families by promoting food policies that work for everyone.”

The briefing was held in conjunction with MAZON’s inaugural EAF convening, bringing together 16 state-based advocacy partners that pursue anti-hunger policy changes at local, state and federal levels. The cohort represents a mix of emerging and well-established field leaders engaging in grassroots organizing, legislative action, policy analysis and impact litigation. MAZON’s EAF program is focused on increasing staff capacity and expertise to impact the political and social dynamics affecting food insecurity. MAZON and EAF partners do this by utilizing public education, public policy advocacy and strategic partnerships.

MAZON Vice President of Public PolicyJosh Protas, served as moderator for the briefing and was joined by four EAF cohort members representing Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and West Virginia. They included:

Tomiko Townley, Advocacy Director, Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance;

Langston Moore, Communications & Community Engagement Director, The Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi;

Brian Kennedy, Public Policy Analyst, North Carolina Justice Center; and

Jennifer Wells, Executive Director, West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition.

Townley described hungry people in Arkansas as “resilient amidst the bureaucracy of being poor.” She added, “We need to make sure that the most vulnerable people in our communities can get the help they need.”

Speaking about the correlation between hunger and academic performance, Moore said, “In order for college students to do well, they can’t be hungry.”

Referencing the importance of changing the narrative about the perception of hunger in rural America, Kennedy said, “We’ve made policy choices that amount to an attack on people who are low income. Food is a right, and we need policies that address the fact that far too many struggle with hunger on a daily basis. No one should be hungry.”

Summarizing the challenges of being hungry in rural America, Wells stated, “We are in a crisis. The stigma that exists on the working poor—that is something we fight against daily.”

MAZON and EAF partners visited congressional offices to share perspectives on anti-hunger priorities at the state level.

Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), longtime anti-hunger champion, MAZON partner and chair of the House Committee on Agriculture’s Subcommittee on Nutrition, said, “The face of hunger is changing. It is no longer exclusively an urban issue. A growing number of rural communities are food insecure, located in hard-to-reach areas without access to full-service grocery stores and healthy food options. These challenges are often compounded by higher rates of unemployment and limited means of transportation. The people in these communities need our support. We must continue to identify ways to strengthen the social safety net and address the unique food needs of rural America.”

EAF’s 16 convening participants include: Alabama Food Bank Association (Huntsville, AL), Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance (Little Rock, AR), Louisiana Budget Project (Baton Rouge, LA), Good Shepherd Food Bank (Auburn, ME), Preble Street (Portland, ME), Missouri Budget Project (St. Louis, MO), Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi (Flowood, MS), Mississippi Center for Justice (Jackson, MS), North Carolina Alliance for Health (Raleigh, NC), North Carolina Justice Center (Raleigh, NC), MomsRising (Raleigh, NC), Tennessee Justice Center (Nashville, TN), Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee (Nashville, TN), West Virginia Food Justice Lab, (Morgantown, WV), West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy (Charleston, WV) and West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition (Charleston, WV).