For the first time in a long time, I’m feeling optimistic. The American Rescue Plan Act (ARP), passed by Congress and signed on March 11 by President Biden, brings much needed support to families hit hard economically by the pandemic. When it comes to direct hunger relief, the ARP boosts 3SquaresVT benefits (federal food support funds) by 15 percent; continues “Pandemic EBT,” which gets food money to families with low incomes and kids in school; expands funding for TEFAP and CSFP, two federal food programs administered by the Vermont Foodbank; and provides $4 billion to the USDA to support the “food supply chain,” which includes getting food directly to people using local providers and restaurants.
Food insecurity is financial insecurity. And changes to the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit will potentially do more to alleviate hunger than all the direct food aid. These changes are projected to reduce U.S. child poverty by 50 percent over the next year. That’s right. Half of the children now living in poverty may not be living in poverty next year. Let that sink in. We’re all better off when families are afforded the dignity to pay for housing, medical care, transportation, and food – the necessities of life – without relying on direct food aid. People can be in control of their own lives, kids have stable homes full of joy, and parents can find meaning in their families, work, and communities without the toxic stress of constant worry.
Racist systems and behaviors are the cause of much financial insecurity, and therefore hunger, for BIPOC communities. The ARP takes some small steps forward by recognizing the historic oppression of Black and other BIPOC farmers and providing direction and resources to the USDA to begin repairing the damage. A more just food system is a more resilient food system and one that connects with and serves everyone in our communities.
That’s the optimism. There are still challenges, and one is that most of these transformational provisions are temporary. The economic damage already done won’t be quickly wiped away, even with $1400 checks and the temporary changes outlined above. People have lost their life savings, their dignity, and their hope for the future. Building back will take time, focus, and commitment. We also know from years of experience that people who no longer meet the federal definition of “food insecure” can still struggle to make ends meet and put food on the table. The Vermont Foodbank and our hundreds of partners in every Vermont community will still be needed. And we will be here as long as necessary. After the great recession that began in 2008, it took 10 years for food insecurity to return to 2007 levels. We can’t let that happen again.
My call to action is simple: don’t forget. As we start hearing stories of recovery, and of the economy roaring back, remember to ask if everyone is included. Remember to ask if we’re reinvesting the recovery dividends into racially and economically just systems, and not returning to the same unjust and inequitable systems that exist now. Check in with me. We’ll go on this new journey together.