(Moultire Observer): Scott, Bishop host rural hunger roundtable
Republican Congressman Austin Scott and Democratic Congressman Sanford Bishop co-hosted a roundtable to discuss rural hunger at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College on March 28.
The purpose of the roundtable discussion was to discuss what has worked well to aid communities in hunger relief and the current problems and restrictions that are impeding local organization’s efforts.
The discussion focused specifically around the Farm Bill, which is being debated in the House of Representatives, and what policy reforms could be included.
Vanessa Hayes, food service director with the Tift County School System, pointed out that one of the issues many local organizations face is that there is no universal definition of poverty in the United States.
“We hear so many different statistics and they’re all over the place,” she said. “Over half the children in our school system receive social services of some kind. There are people who believe that children are not hungry. They do not believe that we have the insecurities that we have. We have all these different percentages out there and we need to get one poverty percentage and stick with that.”
Scott said the roundtable was successful in that it highlighted areas of improvement in the fight against food insecurity the two elected representatives can take back and include in discussion about the Farm Bill. Many food programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), are funded through the farm bill.
He thinks it will be difficult to get anything passed between now and the November elections, but hopes that they can “keep the ball rolling in the right direction, and that means you listen to people who are actually out there delivering services.
“When we’re in Washington, D.C., and we have a concept, that concept doesn’t actually put groceries on the table in front of the person that needs them,” Scott said.
“We see the problem,” Scott said. “We have enough food. We’re throwing away about 40 percent of what we have. The question is how do we get that to the people who need it most. It’s a logistical challenge that we’re having serious conversation about how we can make that happen.”
Food deserts, which refer to areas where there is a dearth of food available to buy, was discussed as a problem affecting rural areas.
“This is one of the big challenges,” Scott said. “It’s actually not as bad in Tifton as it is in many of the surrounding counties, but certainly it is a challenge in Tifton. The problem when you have people who live in a food desert end up paying more for a lower quality of food. Or they’re having to buy processed foods and they have no access to fresh fruits and vegetables.”
Scott and Bishop agree that not having reliable transportation to get to stores to buy food is part of the underlying issue.
“You’ve got people who live in communities that don’t have personal transportation,” Bishop said. “So they have to go to the nearest place, which is a convenience store.”
Many rural grocery stores are closing, Bishop added, which exacerbates the problem of access to food.
“We do need to have some policy in place that will incentivize the creation of food opportunities,” Bishop said. He added that food insecurity was not just a health issue, but a national security issue.
“Right now we can’t produce enough healthy youngsters to go into the military,” he said. “I’m told the bone density is not as good because growing up they didn’t have nutritious foods.”
The “Harvest Boxes,” which the current presidential administration floated as a way to cut spending in the SNAP program, would alleviate the need for families utilizing the program to have to travel to get food, are not fully supported by either Scott or Bishop.
“I’m not convinced that’s the solution,” Scott said. “The concept comes from trying to help those people get a higher quality of food at a lower price per meal. The problem is the logistics of getting the meal to the person and the fact that you’ve effectively taken away the choice of what they’re going to buy from them.”
Bishop said that reducing SNAP benefits in favor of the boxes has caused a lot of worry among benefit recipients.
“If they have boxes delivered and they’re not home, what’s going to happen to the box?” he said. “If they’re delivered, how much is that going to cost?”
The retailers that were at the table agreed with Bishop when he said that reducing benefits would have a negative impact on business, which would mean more stores closing and more pressure on stores that stay open because they’re having to serve more people from a larger area.
Any solution will not be perfect, said Scott.
“We have to make sure we don’t let perfection become the enemy of good enough in trying to address this problem.”