As two members of the National Commission on Hunger, one appointed by the Democratic leadership and one by the Republican leadership, we join our colleagues in their unanimous support for the Commission’s report released today, titled, “Freedom From Hunger: An Achievable Goal for the United States.” We believe that both the process and the final product represent a fresh and inspiring alternative to the paralysis that passes for policymaking in Washington DC today. With five commissioners appointed by the Republican leadership of Congress and five by the Democratic leadership, the likeliest outcome was acrimony and stalemate. We could have just all repeated our predictable lines, and finished with the same views with which we started.
But we decided from the outset that we would aim higher. That we would listen and learn from each other, and keep talking until we found common ground around which we could be unanimous. In the end we did. The report has many recommendations about which we are enthusiastic. We succeeded in getting both sides to hear each other and to get concrete things done.
One issue in particular has many passionate anti-hunger supporters concerned. It is the fear that the report includes words that are code for supporting block granting SNAP. It does not. In fact, we rejected any statement of support for block granting or changing the entitlement structure of SNAP or undermining national standards that protect the programs beneficiaries. Instead we insisted that any linkage of various social service funding streams, meet the test of “reducing hunger” not increasing it. The committee’s deliberations and exchanges between the commissioners also make clear that an overwhelming majority have no intention of conveying support for block grants in this report.
Another issue of concern has been whether the report recommends increased work requirements for SNAP recipients. It does not. Most working age, non-disabled SNAP recipients are either already working, or recently lost jobs but very much want work that provides family-supporting wages. Because many SNAP recipients want to work we recommend that the states do more to support job training and placement.
The culture of Washington today is “if they propose, I will oppose”. We chose a different path. In constructing a carefully balanced and nuanced set of recommendations we said “we will listen to your ideas if you listen to ours.” The result is a wealth of recommendations that affirm and strengthen federal food and nutrition assistance programs, and potentially extend their reach to millions more Americans in need including children, seniors, and veterans.
Other reforms beyond those described above make summer meals more accessible, assure that SNAP education dollars support state-of-the-art effective nutrition education, expand Medicare and Medicaid managed care plans to include meals for seniors, urge a pilot program to change the SNAP benefit calculation from the Thrifty Food Plan to the Low Cost Food Plan, and establish a new White House Leadership Council to ensure inter-agency coordination on a plan to end hunger.
To have unanimous bipartisan support for these proposals is an achievement of which we are proud. Having worked on hunger policy issues for much of our careers, we are confident that the report is more than just the best that could be expected politically. It is actually good in its own right. We know, and say in the report, that beyond the charge of this commission, there is still more work to be done.
We urge readers to assess the report’s various recommendations in the context of the entire report which sought to avoid extremes and to maintain political balance. We hope this report can serve as a catalyst for a larger conversation about what bipartisan approaches to ending hunger can achieve.
Billy Shore and Jeremy Everett
Jeremy Everett is the founding Director of the Texas Hunger Initiative (THI) which is a capacity building project within Baylor University and a partner of the United States Department of Agriculture, Texas state agencies, and a number of other national and state based anti-hunger and poverty organizations that seeks to develop and implement strategies to alleviate hunger through research, policy analysis, education, and community organizing. THI organizes coalitions across the state to ensure access to healthy food for all Texans. Presently THI has coalitions representing 63% of the population of Texas with 12 regional offices and approximately 100 staff resourcing Texas communities which have resulted in millions of additional meals being served to Texas children since its beginning in 2009.
Prior to THI, Mr. Everett worked for international and community development organizations as a teacher, religious leader, community organizer, and organic farmer. Mr. Everett earned a bachelor’s degree from Samford University and a Master of Divinity from Baylor University. He is a Next Generation Fellow of the University of Texas LBJ School’s Strauss Center for International Security and Law.
Billy Shore is the founder and CEO of Share Our Strength, a national nonprofit dedicated to ending childhood hunger in America through its No Kid Hungry campaign.
Mr. Shore is also the author of four books, including The Cathedral Within. He is chairman of Community Wealth Partners, an organization that helps change agents solve social problems at the magnitude they exist.
A native of Pittsburgh, PA, Mr. Shore earned his Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Pennsylvania and his law degree from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He has lectured at New York University’s Stern School of Business, the Wharton School for Business and Harvard Law School. He has also been an advisor for the Reynolds Foundation Fellowship program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government.