Leader in the fight against hunger in Oklahoma testifies at congressional hearing on food insecurity in rural America
A congressional committee invited the head of an organization fighting hunger in Oklahoma to testify at their hearing on food insecurity in rural America.
Hunger Free Oklahoma Executive Director Chris Bernard said Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits are vital not only to people in poverty, but also to the rural economies where people will spend those dollars, supporting businesses and jobs. Bernard told the House committee they should work on policies to help people access those benefits, including making permanent a summer electronic benefits program.
Summer EBT offers families additional money to buy food when school is out and getting to a school during a set time to pick up free meals from summer feeding programs is difficult or impossible.
"Or for schools that, frankly, are just too small for it to be worth it, right? We know communities where they wish they could do it, but their child nutrition person just needs a break and they're off for a month in the summer," Bernard said.
One of the major barriers to rural residents getting enough to eat is transportation to stores selling healthy foods. Bernard said that may not be a family without a vehicle. It could be they don’t have an eligible store close to home where they can spend their nutrition benefits.
"Imagine a mom getting up in the morning and realizing she needs eggs, and she has to do a 45-mile round trip to use the benefits she's been given, even though the local corner store sells those eggs but can't be WIC certified," Bernard said.
Stigma around using nutrition benefits is another barrier to food security for rural residents. Bernard said that can be solved with solutions as simple as integrating electronic benefit card payments into regular point-of-sale terminals or as broad as universal free meals at schools.
Bernard also told the committee successful pilot programs need to be scaled up and unsuccessful ones ended. He cited the Double Up Oklahoma program, which matches SNAP benefits used to buy produce, as a model.