Four steps the Iowa Legislature can take to end hunger

January 13, 2023 12:13 pm

Iowa is seeing increased demand for emergency food aid due to an end to pandemic-era relief programs, inflation and rising food cost. (Stock photo/Getty Images)

As we begin 2023 and a new General Assembly of the Iowa Legislature, Iowans are experiencing record levels of hunger.

This need is well-documented in recent reports of increased demand for emergency food aid due to an end to pandemic-era relief programs, inflation and rising food costs. Addressing immediate needs is important, but to truly end hunger in Iowa we also must address core challenges that lead to inadequate access to food for so many.

The new year provides a new opportunity to regain progress lost to COVID-19 and focus on achieving zero hunger in our state and around the globe. We are more knowledgeable and better prepared now than ever before to adapt to the current hunger crisis and develop resilient food systems that provide healthy, affordable food for all Iowans. We have seen success with effective policies that increase income, reduce poverty and expand food access.

In short, we have the ability and know-how to end hunger by the year 2030; now we must act.

Fortunately, there are concrete steps Iowa lawmakers can take this year to provide immediate and long-term relief for Iowans experiencing food insecurity. Here are four ways the 2023 Legislature can advance us on the path to zero hunger:

1) Implement a state-level child tax credit for Iowa families. A short-term expansion of the federal child tax credit during the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the number of children in poverty by about 3.7 million nationally and the program benefitted 669,000 children in Iowa. The temporary expansion of the federal credit reduced childhood poverty in Iowa temporarily by 40%. Studies of the federal tax credit showed that the monthly payments were used by families across the income spectrum to purchase food. Nine states have established a child tax credit to ease the burden on working families, preparing children up for a lifetime of success.

2) Enhance SNAP benefits by increasing eligibility and availability of healthy, nutritious food. Increase funding for Iowa’s Double Up Food Bucks program, which provides additional money for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients to spend on fruits and vegetables. The program is tremendously popular, with more than $2.3 million in Double Up Food Bucks redeemed in 2021 – a 130% increase from 2020. All of that money is spent at Iowa-owned grocery stores and farmers’ markets, creating a $4.3 million economic impact, according to the Iowa Healthiest State Initiative. The program is so successful that in 2022 demand outpaced availability. An increase in funding will increase access to healthy food and generate even greater investment in local economies.

In addition, expanding SNAP eligibility to 200% of the Federal Poverty Line in Iowa would reduce food insecurity in the state, providing benefits to Iowans struggling with food insecurity who currently earn too much income to qualify for SNAP.

3) Invest in Iowa’s youth by advancing healthy school meals at Iowa schools. States across the country are beginning to implement their own universal school meal programs, which can reduce childhood hunger, provide students with healthy and nutritious food, and ensure that all students are able to thrive in the classroom. Investing in feeding all of Iowa’s youth pays dividends long into the future, with higher achievement and better health outcomes.

4)   One important, long-term action for legislators is to support sustainable food and agriculture for farmers and for the people of Iowa by creating incentives for Iowa farms and farmers to embrace circular systems that enhance environmental, ecological and economic returns to farming operations. Producing a diversity of crops, livestock and energy, while protecting soil, water and human health will have positive returns on agriculture investment, immediately. And, these systems drive down hunger and poverty in the longer term. Reshaping Iowa’s farm economy can provide more healthy, local food.

At the World Food Prize Foundation, we are committed to building a world without hunger, including at home in Iowa. We believe we can, with proper action and investment, make significant progress in food security in 2023 and lay the groundwork for supporting resilient, just food systems now and in the future.

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Kyle Poorman
Kyle Poorman

Kyle Poorman is director of international dialogues and the Iowa Hunger Summit at the World Food Prize.

Jon Wogman
Jon Wogman

Jon Wogman is the senior program manager for global youth programs and partnerships for the World Food Prize.