Policy Highlights from the 2023 National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference
Catherine (Cat) Rudolph, MS, RD
Iowa Academy State Policy Representative
Last spring, I had the opportunity to attend the 2023 National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference (NAHPC) held in Washington, DC May 7-9th. The NAHPC brings together thousands of anti hunger advocates to learn, listen, collaborate, and lobby on important issues impacting the health and well-being of our communities. The agenda consisted of general sessions over lunch, breakout sessions, networking opportunities, and a lobby day where attendees were encouraged to meet with their legislators on Capitol Hill.
For the first time in the history of the conference, a panel of speakers with lived and living experience, Jimmieka Mills, Tori Overton, Lawson Picasso, and Crys Riles, kicked off the event on the main stage. Sharing their stories while acknowledging the diversity of others’ experiences, the panelists encouraged people with lived experiences of hunger and poverty to step into their power and expertise, to know that they are not alone, and to know they have nothing to be embarrassed about.
Conference speakers highlighted the critical timing of the conference as legislators were debating the debt ceiling, and quickly approaching a potential default. Debbie Weinstein, from the Coalition on Human Needs, discussed the detrimental outcomes a default could bring to the workforce and participation in federal nutrition programs. Along with other conference speakers, she discussed the negative impact of work requirements and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) restrictions.
During Monday’s lunch plenary, attendees heard from Stacy Dean, Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Stacy discussed the ongoing work the USDA is aiming to complete around summer non-congregate meal flexibilities, WIC accessibility, and modernizing and building up SNAP. She emphasized the importance at the federal level of hearing about the experiences and vision of individuals directly impacted by or working at the heart of the community. Stacy encouraged everyone to be guided by service to their fellow human beings, and continue to share their indomitable spirit and perseverance.
Reflections and Takeaways
I greatly appreciated the conference's intentional, thoughtful conversations about engaging with and uplifting individuals and communities impacted by hunger and poverty. It’s important to recognize the ways in which these communities have been hurt by the very same people who have been trying to “help” them. As Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America, shared, “(the reasons) why answers didn’t come was that we tried to tell communities what they need(ed), instead of asking.” To get different results, we need different approaches.
A session presented by Luke Elzinga and Tara Kramer from the Des Moines Area Religious Council discussed ways in which they have been working to involve people who experience
food insecurity in anti-hunger advocacy and decision-making. Among these initiatives have included coordinating the “Storytellers Roundtable,” which invites community members with lived experience to share their stories and input (stipend, lunch, transportation, childcare compensation included), and forming a Community Advisory Board. Their goal is to create safe, validating spaces for community members and help shift the narratives around people's experiences with food insecurity in their advocacy work.
In the session “Creative Ways To Address Anti-Hunger Work,” Rebecca Vallas, Senior Fellow and Senior Advisor to the Disability Economic Justice, shared valuable information about the power of shifting paradigms and narratives. These steps included 1) making visible the invisible limiting beliefs holding us back from the desired shift, and 2) depriving those stories of nourishment & replacing them with ones that enable the shifts we want to bring into reality. For example, replacing the limiting belief “A human being’s worth comes from work.” to “Taking food away from people who can’t find work won’t help them find a job any faster.” Iowa Academy members can listen to her work on the Off-Kilter podcast!
Lobbying at the Capitol
At the conference, I had the opportunity to lobby at the Capitol along with other state advocates. Overall, it was an excellent chance to strengthen my skills in speaking with legislators. The Academy 2023 Farm Bill Priorities resources, which can be found on Eat Right Pro, were helpful in preparing for meetings along with detailed documents developed by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC).
Our Iowa group was small, but mighty and had the opportunity to speak with Senator Grassley and Representative Nunn about priorities for the next Farm Bill. As a dietitian, I felt I was able to provide valuable insight into the importance of adequate food and nutrition on health outcomes and healthcare costs, the experiences community members and patients have with food and nutrition programs, and the critical need for flexibility and innovation to promote better access for those that need the programs. Advocates from the Food Bank of Iowa and Iowa Anti-Hunger Coalition were able to share stories on the current and rising food and poverty concerns among Iowans and the limitations of the charitable food system in being the main support for these needs. Most powerful was the advocate in our group who shared her experiences facing poverty, hunger, and barriers when accessing food and nutrition assistance programs.
The NAHPC was an inspiring opportunity to connect and learn alongside like-minded individuals working to address anti-hunger issues in our communities and put this knowledge to use through advocacy work at the Capitol. If you are interested in getting involved in this work, consider the following action steps:
Get involved with the Iowa Academy Public Policy team. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Participate in an Academy Affinity Group. The Nutrition Security Affinity Group meets monthly on the first Wednesday of every month from 3-4 p.m.
Meet with your representatives and encourage them to support acts aligned with the discussions, including but not limited to:
Improving Access to Nutrition Act (H.R. 1510 Lee 118th)
Closing the Meal Gap Act (H.R. 3037 Adams 118th/S. 1366 Gillibrand 118th)
EATS Act (H.R. 1919 Gomez 117th/S. 2515 Gillibrand 117th)
Hot Foods Act (H.R. 6338 Meng, Fitzpatrick 117th)
Lift the BAR Act (H.R. 5227 Jayapal 117th)
Universal School Meals Program Act (S. 1530 117th/H.R. 3115 Omar 117th)
Improving Access to Nutrition Act (H.R. 1510 Lee 118th)
Stop Child Hunger Act (S. 1831 Murray 117th/H.R. 3519 Levin 117th)
School Meals Expansion Act (H.R. 2567 McGarvey 118th)
No Hungry Kids in School Act (H.R. 9482 Porter 117th)
Consider the below references when engaging with representatives: