By Robert Swift
HARRISBURG (Sept. 3)– Wolf administration officials Tuesday touted the work of an inter-agency partnership in addressing hunger issues involving all ages of the state's population at the start of Hunger Action Month.
The Governor's Food Security Partnership created in 2015 tackles problems facing some 1.5 million Pennsylvanians who experience hunger. This number includes 437,000 children who don't have access to reliable and nutritious meals, officials said.
A half-dozen Wolf cabinet secretaries and deputy secretaries outlined the challenges facing children, low-income families and senior citizens in having reliable access to food during a Capitol event. These can range from a lack of fresh vegetables and fruit, seniors skipping meals due to the cost of prescription drugs, the closing of supermarkets in downtown areas and the future of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the face of proposed eligibility changes.
“Hunger is the result of systematic issues that we face,” said First Lady Frances Wolf.
Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller added, “More than one million people around Pennsylvania do not know where they will get their next meal.”
Administration officials plan to visit local charitable food organizations across the state during Hunger Action Month.
Pennsylvania has an array of programs designed to tackle hunger-related problems ranging from the WIC nutrition program for pregnant women, infants and young children; the National School Lunch Program, state tax credits to businesses that donate food to charitable food organizations and providing assistance to help farmers stay in business and find new markets, officials said.
The passage of a bipartisan agriculture aid package last June is adding new programs to the mix. The package aims to help farmer cope with a variety of economic challenges and to find new markets for their goods.
The state is accepting applications for new grant programs to expand markets for agricultural ventures in urban areas and to help small meat processors meet federal safety rules and thus expand their markets, said Cheryl Cook, a deputy state agriculture secretary.
Agriculture also runs programs to save surplus food from being discarded and provide nutrition vouchers for use at farmers markets, she added.
Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said poor nutrition can lead to childhood obesity and then high blood pressure and diabetes. That's why the WIC program is so important in enabling people to buy healthy fruits and vegetables, she explained.
When downtown supermarkets close, it can mean a crisis for senior citizens and others trying to shop for groceries, said Rick Villelo, deputy secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development. He noted the department is trying to encourage the return of supermarkets when doing redevelopment plans.