Ending Hunger in North Florida

On Wednesday, the newly confirmed Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, will visit the House Agriculture Committee to outline his vision for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). As a proud member of this committee, and an enthusiastic thought leader on the Nutrition Subcommittee, I am looking forward to representing the interests of northeast Florida during the Secretary’s appearance. One of my top concerns that I plan to bring up to the Secretary is my district’s struggles with hunger and food insecurity.

In Florida’s Fifth district, one in every four people has been on food stamps at some point over the last 12 months — this is twice the national average and 10 percent higher than the rest of Florida overall. Every day, we send children home from schools that universally qualify for free breakfast and lunch to families who cannot afford to put food on the table; we put working Floridians in the no-win position of having to choose between paying their light bill or affording healthy food; and we jeopardize the health and wellness of our community by allowing hunger to persist. This is unacceptable and something must be done.

I have been relentless in my advocacy of programs and initiatives that address hunger. I sent a letter to Governor Scott urging opposition to state legislature efforts that would have cut off access to food stamps for more than 220,000 Floridians. I brought the Department of Agriculture’s Southeast Regional Administrator to Fairview Middle School in Tallahassee, a school that qualifies for universal free breakfast and lunch due to high family poverty rates. I visited the Second Harvest of the Big Bend, a food bank that has distributed over 6.5 million pounds of food to hungry families. And most recently, I convened a call with School District Nutrition Directors from all 8 counties in the Fifth District and federal and state leaders to talk about what we can be doing better to address childhood hunger.

Rep. Lawson visits Fairview Middle School and Second Harvest of Big Bend, both in Tallahassee, Fla.

I will not sit idly by while hunger and food insecurity devastate our families. I will continue my dogged support of the food stamp program and ensure that we do not cut benefits that average $1.40 per person, per meal. I will ensure that programs like the Emergency Food Assistance Program, which are integral to food banks like Second Harvest of the Big Bend and Feeding Northeast Florida, will be funded at levels that are sufficient to feed the elderly, the homeless, and countless veterans.

With announcements that Winn-Dixie plans to close stores in June in both Tallahassee and Jacksonville, I will continue fighting for efforts to alleviate the food deserts we have in Florida’s Fifth, such as the Healthy Food Financing Initiative that granted $800,000 last year to the North Point Two Grocery Store. And I will promote grants that encourage Floridians to make healthier choices and to purchase local produce at Fresh Access Markets across our District.

I am excited about the opportunity to raise these concerns in person to Secretary Perdue later this week. I will continue to fight for our district and ensure that the Secretary walks away with our concerns in mind.