White House Plans Hunger Conference, Montana Explains Feeding Children Is Overrated
The White House announced Wednesday that Joe Biden will host a "Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health" in September, the first time in more than 50 years such a conference has been held at the White House. The goal, the administration says, is to end hunger in the USA by 2030, as well as to get more Americans eating healthy and doing physical activity, as if Joe Biden thinks he's Michelle Obama or something, to reduce the number of Americans experiencing "diet-related diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, and hypertension."
Given rightwing media's panic about a Homeland Security program aimed at countering foreign misinformation, which wingnuts think is actually the creation of an Orwellian "Ministry of Truth," we can only assume that Fox News will declare that Biden is proposing a literal Hunger Games fight to the death by children from around the country.
The first, and so far only, White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health was hosted by Richard Nixon in 1969; CNN notes that that conference led to better nutrition labeling on food packaging, the creation of the nutrition program for Women Infants and Children (WIC), and expansions of federal school lunches and food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Biden said that the conference grew out of his administration's work to make sure people could put food on their families during the pandemic.
“Too many families don’t know where they’re going to get their next meal,” Biden said in a video announcing the conference. “Too many empty chairs around the kitchen table because a loved one was taken by heart disease, diabetes or other diet-oriented diseases, which are some of the leading causes of death in our country.”
The pandemic, the President said, was “a stark reminder of the need for urgent, sustained action. As more Americans experienced hunger we saw diet-related diseases heighten the risk of severe Covid. It’s time we make real change.”
CNN reports that ubiquitous celebrity chef, philanthropist, and world food saint José Andrés is expected to be at the conference, which will also be attended by folks from state, local, and tribal governments, the healthcare community, and "representatives from food companies" — and because this is the Biden White House, we expect that won't be limited to executives from McDonalds or the Popeye's organization.
Also too, to illustrate the need for continuing work on hunger, Montana has decided that feeding hungry kids is simply too much bother, so it won't even apply for a federal program that would provide $36.6 million emergency nutrition program funding this summer.
The Pandemic EBT program would provide low-income parents with a card they could use to purchase food, but the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services said in March that the aid probably wouldn't be needed anymore, since it was meant to help feed kids who relied on free and reduced price meals at school, and hey, the schools reopened, so clearly nobody is hungry in all of Montana now.
Health Department spokesperson Jon Ebelt explained to a state legislative committee that the need for additional food help had gone down 50 percent from fall 2020 to spring 2021, and heck, as schools have reopened, that decline has "undoubtedly" continued, which sure sounds like Gov. Greg Gianforte's administration has a handle on the situation, probably.
Ebelt explained in an April email to the Daily Montanan that if the rules for the federal program would just let states have more "flexibility" to "allow Montana to design a plan that meets its needs," then maybe the state would submit a request for funds. Ebelt said the program resulted in a "significant administrative burden" for the state, so apparently free money is a terrible idea. Maybe Montana needs to buy, we dunno, pickup trucks and guns with the nutrition funds.
Community groups in Montana have been asking Gianforte's administration to reconsider, and to submit a plan for the coming school year, which seems like a non-onerous way to get tens of millions of dollars to feed hungry families. On the other hand, have any of those community groups offered to help Republicans get out the vote, or even vowed to help eliminate critical race theory? We bet they have not!
Besides, nobody in Montana needs food assistance now that the pandemic is completely over (which it isn't, not by a long shot, please just ignore the trend line showing new cases creeping up again). It's just prosperity as far as you can see, as long as you don't look in the direction of the Missoula Food Bank and Community Center, which said March 2022 was its busiest month in 40 years of existence:
In 23 days, the nonprofit provided 12,041 services to 4,317 households, and it counted 11 days when staff served more than 200 families, “something we only see two or three times in a month,” said Jessica Allred, interim co-executive director in an [April 22] email .
Sheila Hogan, executive director of the Montana Democratic Party, said Gianforte's decision not to apply for the federal funds didn't make a lot of sense:
We know how to solve this– federal food assistance is a simple and effective solution to reduce child hunger. What are Gianforte’s motivations for denying these children access to food? This feels like cruelty for cruelty’s sake.
The approximately 97,500 kids who will lose the supplemental food assistance could go protest at the governor's office, we suppose, but he might decide to beat them up to prove how tough he is, so that strategy may be risky.
[White House / CNN / Daily Montanan / Montana Democrats]
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