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“In every country in the world and in every state in this country, no matter what else divides us, if a parent cannot feed a child, there’s nothing else that matters for that parent. If you look at your child and you can’t feed your child, what the hell else matters?”

In his remarks at the Sept. 28 White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, President Biden summed up the heart of the matter for any family that has ever struggled to put food on the table. This event was the first time the White House had convened a conference on hunger in more than 50 years. The first one, held in December 1969, led to the beginning of a series of expansions of the federal food safety net programs that so many tens of millions depend on today. But there is a critical need to do more right now. The 2022 conference emphasized once again that hunger, along with disparities in access to healthy food and in health outcomes linked to nutrition, is preventable — and we have the ability to do something about it.

The Children’s Defense Fund joined other organizations urging the White House to hold this conference, signing a letter earlier this year that read in part: “We can end hunger in America, and a public commitment to a White House Conference, with ending hunger as a key priority, is an essential step in accomplishing this goal. … The 1969 Conference led to an expansion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the National School Lunch Program, as well as the establishment of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The Conference created the meaningful and necessary conversations to address hunger and food insecurity in America at the time. Now, more than half a century later, conversations on how we will finally put an end to hunger in America are long overdue.”

The White House responded, and in this new conference reinforced its goal of ending hunger and increasing healthy eating and physical activity by 2030. As they put it: “Millions of Americans are afflicted with food insecurity and diet-related diseases — including heart disease, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes — which are some of the leading causes of death and disability in the U.S. The toll of hunger and these diseases is not distributed equally, disproportionately impacting underserved communities, including communities of color, people living in rural areas, people who are differently-abled, older adults, LGBTQI+ people, military families, and military veterans. Lack of access to healthy, safe, and affordable food, and to safe outdoor spaces, contributes to hunger, diet-related diseases, and health disparities. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these challenges further. We cannot wait to act. And we aren’t.”

The action plan is a National Strategy centered on five pillars: improving food access and affordability, including by advancing economic security, increasing access to free and nourishing school meals, and expanding SNAP eligibility; integrating nutrition and health, which involves prioritizing the role of nutrition and food security in overall health, including disease prevention and management; empowering all consumers to make and have access to healthy choices; supporting physical activity for all, in part by ensuring that everyone has access to safe spaces to be active; and enhancing nutrition and food security research, especially to learn more about equity, access, and disparities. For each of the five pillars there are roles for local and federal governments, the private sector, researchers and academia, and nonprofit and community groups to play to help our nation meet these goals.

President Biden singled out the Child Tax Credit expansion enacted during the pandemic as just one key example of an effective anti-hunger policy that is critically needed. Congress must make the Child Tax Credit expansion permanent immediately. As President Biden also emphasized, just as fighting hunger was a bipartisan effort during the last conference convened by the Nixon administration, it should be a bipartisan effort today: “This should be an organizing element of how we start to talk to one another again. … In America, no child should go to bed hungry. No parent should die of a disease that can be prevented. This has always been a country, when we’re at our best, we think big … There is nothing — nothing, nothing — I really mean it — there’s nothing beyond our capacity when we work together, so let’s work together.” Amen!

Edelman is founder and president emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund.

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