A Strong America is...Food Secure
Making America strong means making America food secure
We have faced unbelievable challenges this year that continue to have devastating effects on families and communities throughout our country. We’ve learned, adjusted, learned some more, and adjusted again. Though children are resilient, many of our nation’s youth are suffering amidst this instability. While the COVID-19 crisis has exposed several long-standing societal problems that were present before the pandemic, it has brought focused attention to one problem particularly devastating to families, especially children, food insecurity.
When my children were young, we were blessed to have the resources and means to ensure they had nutritious and healthy meals. Many parents, however, are not as privileged. Due to significant, pandemic-fueled increases to the unemployment and child poverty rates, up to 18 million children will experience food insecurity due to the health crisis. The health crisis has particularly compromised our vulnerable children, families, and communities, and within that group, children of color have been hardest hit. These communities are food insecure. Children in these neighborhoods rely on regular schooling, not only for social and academic development but also for healthy and nutritious meals. “Back to school” looked different across the nation this fall, and we need to make sure that all children’s nutritional needs are met under these new conditions.
Our children’s health is vital for a myriad of reasons. One that is surprising, and the top-line concern of Mission: Readiness is national security. An incredible 71 percent of youth between the ages of 17 and 24 are ineligible for military service. One of the leading medical disqualifiers is obesity. While we knew about this troubling statistic before the pandemic, COVID-19’s impact on food insecurity is sure to worsen the underlying conditions that fuel it.
Mission: Readiness has long understood the connection between healthy children and the strength of our national security, and in the last few months, has conducted meaningful work to advocate for healthy children and our national security. In August, Mission: Readiness worked directly with two of our congressional champions, Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA) and Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE), to send a bipartisan letter to USDA urging the extension of summer meal programs’ ability to serve kids throughout the public health crisis. The impact of this letter was evident: USDA moved quickly to extend summer meal operations, and Congress followed up with legislation to authorize expanded summer meal operations through the end of Fiscal Year 2021.
However, the work doesn’t stop here.
When considering what these innovations will be and advocating for their implementation, we must address the fact that children of color are affected disproportionately by food insecurity and malnutrition. In 2019, 19 percent of Black, non-Hispanic households and 16 percent of Hispanic households experienced food insecurity. In the early months of the pandemic, 27 percent of both Black and Hispanic households experienced food insecurity. This rate was approximately twice as high as the rate of food insecurity in white households at the same time. The pandemic not only has exposed inequities that disproportionately impact Black and Brown children but has also exacerbated them. As we reimagine school meal programs, we must address the needs and challenges of children and communities of color so that all children can thrive in these difficult times.
The Making a Strong America blog series, authored by Council for a Strong America President and CEO Barry Ford, unpacks the question: What makes America strong? In a time of great uncertainty and deep ideological division, Making a Strong America will examine issues related to the thriving of children and families that communities throughout the country face and how those issues affect this country’s safety, security, and growth.
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