Bad Federal Policy Must Not Take Food off the Table in Georgia
By all measures, the COVID-19 pandemic worsened the problem of food insecurity in America. In fact, the pandemic and subsequent economic recession reversed the pre-pandemic trend of declining food insecurity.
One in eight Americans experienced food insecurity last year, and among children, the problem was worse. One in six children, many of them among the 30 million school children who depend on free school lunch programs, was food insecure in 2021, with Black Americans twice as likely to suffer from food insecurity as white Americans.
Household food insecurity is higher in the South than anywhere else in the country. At the same time, Georgia’s agriculture industry broke sales records in 2020, the first year of the pandemic.
Georgia’s agriculture commissioner cited record demand, especially for fresh fruits and vegetables. Sale of agricultural products in the state produced more than $5 billion in cash receipts. And as with other consumer products, the price of food continues to go up. In 2021, the price of limes doubled. Beef is up 10 percent, fresh fruit is up five to six percent, and working-class families and seniors living on fixed incomes have to dedicate more of their monthly budgets just to put the same food on the table.
For communities of color, access to fresh fruit and vegetables has long been an issue. Black and Latino families are far more likely than white families to live in food deserts, where a lack of access to fresh produce contributes to worse nutritional outcomes. Black and Latino seniors are also more likely to face hunger, and to experience negative health outcomes for lower nutrient intakes, including diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, heart failure, gum disease, and asthma.
While steps have been taken to make it easier for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to be used to buy fresh produce, including authorizing and promoting farmers markets to accept SNAP benefits across the country, fresh fruits and vegetables remain expensive and inaccessible for many low-income and minority families.
SNAP is not the only federal policy which can affect access to fresh produce for low-income families, however. Under the Trump Administration, the Department of Commerce initiated investigations in an effort to place tariffs on imported fresh produce, ostensibly to uncover harm to American farmers. The last of these investigations only concluded in January, and none found enough harm to justify government intervention. While these investigations did not lead to tariffs and higher prices this time, they do demonstrate the misuse of federal policy that can benefit one corporate interest and ultimately lead to higher prices for those who can least afford it.
In December, Black Women’s Health Imperative and the Alliance to End Hunger led a coalition letter asking that Congress exercise its oversight role and look into the misuse of federal policy that occurred under the previous Administration. Only by answering these questions and insisting that federal policy consider the needs of food insecure Americans in its policymaking, can we prevent future misuse and harm to vulnerable communities.
Black Georgians should not have to pay the price for bad federal policy, especially policy that disproportionately benefits wealthy, white landowners. It’s up to our elected officials to use this opportunity to shed light on past bad behavior and help to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Tammy Boyd is the Chief Policy Officer at the Black Women’s Health Imperative. Boyd previously served as the Legislative Director for the late Congressman John Lewis of Georgia’s 5th District.