On September 28, the White House held a press conference on hunger, nutrition, and health — it was the first press conference of its kind held in over 50 years.
“I’m convening this conference again because I believe we can use these advances to do even more to make America stronger and a healthier nation,” President Joe Biden stated. “I really do know we can do this: End hunger in this country by the year 2030 and lower the toll that diet-related diseases take on for too many Americans.”
During this press conference, Biden revealed that — 30 years ago — 1 in 4 children lived below the poverty line. Today, 1 in 20 live below the poverty line. Biden is confident that his administration can tackle hunger and he has released a national strategy to meet what he called a “bold goal.” His strategy consists of three key principles:
- Helping more people access the food that will keep their families nourished and healthy
- Giving people the option and information they need to make healthy dietary choices
- Helping more people be physically active
During his speech, Biden noted that food deserts around the United States cause issues with people being able to have access to food and that some communities don’t have places to go to be active from where they live.
And as the White House continues in its efforts to tackle hunger, several organizations in Kern County are also working to combat hunger locally.
Here in Kern County, food deserts are abundant in rural areas. In communities like Delano, Wasco, and Arvin, healthy, affordable food isn’t always easy to access. Kern County currently has a 22.8 percent food insecurity rate, which is defined as the lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life.
Food insecurity is associated with numerous adverse social and health outcomes and is increasingly considered a critical public health issue. Key drivers of food insecurity include unemployment, poverty, and income shocks, which can prevent adequate access to food.
“Those food deserts, especially in a large area like Kern County with a lot of rural communities, create challenges, which is why we created this food network to go out into every community and help provide food to folks that are experiencing difficulty finding or purchasing it,” stated James Burger, the Outreach and Advocacy Coordinator for Community Action Partnership of Kern (CAPK).
CAPK’s Food Bank, which is the County’s central food bank, collects donations before sending the food back out to all corners of Kern County. According to Burger, there are over 150 different organizations that partner with CAPK to assist in these food distributions.
The Food Bank is able to distribute millions of pounds of food annually to hungry individuals, families, non-profits, churches, community centers, homeless shelters, and poverty-fighting agencies throughout Kern County. Fifty-four percent of those served by the Food Bank are children.
“This need has always been in place,” Burger proclaimed. “We’ve seen it grow over the last four years, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Burger revealed that in 2019, CAPK delivered about 23 million pounds of food to Kern County, while in 2020 the number jumped up to 30 million pounds of food delivered. In 2021, that number decreased back to 23 million, but CAPK has been seeing that number ramp back up in 2022.
“We’re hearing anecdotally from our partners — the 150 we have out in the communities — that they are being asked for more food. We’re having more people call into our 2-1-1 call center and they are saying they need to find a place to get food,” Burger announced. “This need has gone up this year as price inflation has hit the cost of food.”
Burger stated that the quickest way for people to find out where they can go to get food in their communities is by calling 2-1-1, CAPK’s 24/7 call line that attends to any social service that residents in the community may need.
According to Feeding America — the largest hunger-relief organization in the United States — multiple interventions have been shown to reduce food insecurity, including participation in food assistance programs and broader societal-level improvements in economic stability.
One assistance program that was utilized to combat hunger and food insecurity was the Childcare Tax Credit expansion which was introduced following the implementation of the American Rescue Plan Act. This expansion temporarily increased the child tax credit for the tax year 2021 from $2,000 to $3,600 per child under age 6 and $3,000 per child up to age 17.
“Overwhelmingly, working families used the Child Tax Credit to buy food and other basic needs for their families,” Biden stated during the press conference. “And it helped cut child poverty by nearly 50 percent in the United States — 50 percent. And it cut food insecurity for families by 26 percent.”
Because of the expanded Child Care Tax Credit’s effectiveness in the community, Biden’s national strategy to tackle hunger has now called on Congress to expand the Child Credit permanently.
“My strategy would also make permanent an American Rescue Plan program that has made sure families, including over 30 million children, had money to buy groceries into the summer months so kids don’t go hungry when school isn’t in session,” Biden continued.