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Biden sets goal to end U.S. hunger by 2030, planning a White House summit

The first White House summit on hunger was held in 1969. Philadelphia advocates said that conference led to school meals, SNAP, and WIC.

An employee with the Share Food Program in Hunting Park, Philadelphia, drops off food supplies for people in poverty. (Alejandro A. Alvarez/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)
An employee with the Share Food Program in Hunting Park, Philadelphia, drops off food supplies for people in poverty. (Alejandro A. Alvarez/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)Read moreALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / MCT

With a goal of ending hunger in America by 2030, President Joe Biden announced Wednesday his intent to hold a White House summit on hunger in September, only the second in U.S. history.

“Hunger, diet-related disease, and the disparities surrounding them impact millions of Americans,” said Susan Rice, the president’s adviser for domestic policy. “No one should have to wonder where their next meal will come from.”

The first White House summit on hunger was held in 1969 under President Richard Nixon. Considered a pivotal event, it led to the creation of federal nutrition programs such as SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program formerly known as food stamps), school meals, and WIC (Special Supplemental Feeding Program for Women, Infants and Children).

“I’m very excited by the White House announcement,” said Brian Gralnick, director of local grants and partnerships with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. The federation runs food pantries in Northeast Philadelphia, Elkins Park, Bala Cynwyd, and lower Bucks County.

“During the past few months of high inflation, we’ve seen increases in the number of pantry clients,” Gralnick said. “It’s very timely we have this discussion.”

A White House statement pointed out that a disproportionate number of underserved people in Black, Hispanic, and Native American communities struggle with heart disease and diabetes, related to the lack of healthy foods.

“A lot of families in North Philadelphia live in food swamps — places where the available food is low in nutrition,” said Dan Taylor, a pediatrician at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. “I work in communities that suffer from indifference and neglect. The president’s summit is ambitious and long overdue.”

While local hunger expert Mariana Chilton said she’s “thrilled” that the White House is committing to a national strategy to end hunger in eight years, she’d like to see the summit fashioned in a particular way.

The Biden administration should “insist on and codify in the U.S. Constitution that everyone has the right to be free from hunger, and that food is a fundamental human right,” said Chilton, director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities at Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health. She pointed out that more than 20 countries — including South Africa and Brazil — include the right to be free from hunger in their constitutions.

Chilton added that any national strategy to end hunger must be “transparent, inclusive, and accountable to the U.S. public.”

She concluded that “we will know if the U.S. government and the Biden administration are serious about ending hunger if people who’ve experienced food insecurity are invited to lead the vast majority of the discussions.” If, on the other hand, large multinational corporations are invited to sponsor and headline the event, Chilton said, “we will know they’re not serious.”

Temple University sociologist Judith Levine said she’s concerned about how realistic the commitment in Washington is to end hunger, “given that the programs we know reduce poverty, such as the expanded child tax credit (CTC), have not received Congressional support.”

The Biden administration’s expansion of the CTC, starting in July 2021, was meant to help families navigate the pandemic with cash infusions of as much as $3,000 a year per child ages 6 to 17, and $3,600 a year per child from newborn to age 5.

It succeeded, raising some 4 million U.S. children out of poverty. But the expansion ended in December, and Congress declined to continue it, plunging those same children back into indigence.

For Levine, when she thinks of hunger in Philadelphia, she envisions the more than 30% of city children living in poverty — more than 40% in the lowest income areas.

“While I’m extremely concerned about hungry adults, proper nutrition in children is vital for proper development,” said Levine, director of Temple’s Public Policy Lab. “If children don’t have their basic needs met, it’s very difficult to be set on a trajectory toward economic mobility.”

In announcing the September summit, the White House credited a bipartisan group of congressional representatives who support the conference.

Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, called the White House linkage with Congress to create the summit “a big victory for the anti-hunger movement.”

“Massive national problems,” he said, “deserve bold national leadership like this.”