July 01, 2021

Going big on hunger?

 This is really weird, but for the second time in a week or so, the WV legislature, which one of my favorite delegates refers to as "the bad idea factory," did something good. I mean real good.

First a little background: at least since 2013, with the passage of the WV Feed to Achieve Act, a lot of my friends and comrades, now known as the WV Food for All Coalition, have worked on hunger and  food security issues, from school meals to SNAP benefits to responding to food needs during the pandemic.

For the last several years, some of us have urged the passage of what has been know as the Summer Feeding for All Act, which would have required school boards to come up with food plans when school is not is session, whether for summer vacations or other disasters.

It was particularly ironic in 2020 to watch the bill die in the waning days of the legislative session just as the first wave of a global pandemic hit that would result in the end of in-person classes for months...and then to watch as schools scrambled to do what they could to make sure kids didn't miss out on food while at home. 

Maybe our theory was correct.

Anyhow, a lot of us who work on these issues were pleasantly surprised to learn that House Speaker Roger Hanshaw announced the formation of a bipartisan working group "dedicated to utilizing every tool at West Virginia’s disposal to help reduce hunger throughout the state."

Here's the rest of the news release:

Delegate Larry Pack, R-Kanawha, and Delegate Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell, will lead the bipartisan workgroup, which will focus on improving food insecurity, which Feeding America estimates affects one in seven West Virginians as well as one in five West Virginia children.

“We have plenty of evidence that shows us how deeply connected hunger is to other issues, such as overall health, mental health, academic achievement and economic prosperity,” Pack said. “We are committed to putting in the time and energy to truly understand not only what specific roadblocks are out there hurting our West Virginia families, but also what solutions we can implement in the near future.”

Pack and Lovejoy both pushed this year to establish the Summer Feeding for All initiative, and while that did not happen during the regular legislative session, Lovejoy said this new workgroup is a big step forward.

“This is an exciting announcement recognizing that food insecurity is a priority in West Virginia policymaking,” Lovejoy said. “I’m grateful to our Speaker, who has actively participated in the bipartisan House Hunger Caucus since its inception, and now organizes a formal group of committed representatives to tackle this problem head-on.”

Other members of the workgroup are Delegates:

Brent Boggs, D-Braxton      

Ed Evans, D-McDowell

Joshua Higginbotham, R-Putnam

John Paul Hott, R-Grant

Riley Keaton, R-Roane

Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette

Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia

Evan Worrell, R-Cabell

Kayla Young, D-Kanawha

Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall

 This is a big advance and a major victory for WV's food fighters. You can bet that some of us have some ideas we can't wait to share. Meanwhile, thanks to the legislative champions, advocates and impacted people who have worked for years to raise this issue.

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