Native News Pick of the Month: President Biden’s ‘Thrifty Food Plan’ and what it means for Native Families

This month, PWNA vice president of programs Rafael Tapia Jr. offers his thoughts on our May ‘Native News Pick of the Month’: Biden Quietly Preparing for Food Stamp Increase Without Congress via Bloomberg

Commentary:

Earlier this year, President Biden shared his American Rescue Plan, which included $12 billion in additional support for major food assistance programs, along with the American Families Plan that will expand access to free school lunch and summertime cash benefits for families with children. These actions are geared at supporting some of America’s most impoverished communities – and Native Americans should not be left behind.

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, 23% of Native American families were impacted by food insecurity. Tribal communities face high rates of impoverishment and are at greater risk for diabetes, obesity and other nutrition-related illnesses. One of our priorities at PWNA is to aid the communities we serve in developing sustainable nutrition initiatives, such as access to fresh food and preparing healthier meals.

President Biden’s ‘Thrifty Food Plan’ would support a long-term increase in food aid for millions of Americans that goes beyond the COVID-19 relief package. Steps like these are critical when you consider the lasting impact the pandemic will have long after it is “over.” And while Indian Country has made great strides in rolling out the vaccine, the need for critical resources like food and water is just as high as it was before the pandemic.

For many Americans, lining up outside of food banks to await groceries was a jarring, if not traumatic, first. Last December, one in seven homes were food insecure and this past January, nearly 42 million Americans were receiving food stamps. President Biden shared in his first Congressional speech, “I didn’t ever think I’d see that in America.” Yet, there is one America that most Americans never see – Native America. 

Food insecurity disproportionately impacts communities of color, especially children, Elders and people with disabilities. Contrary to misconceptions about government aid, many people in remote reservation communities are barely scraping by and often choose between food and other essentials like school supplies or gas. We work year-round to replenish our warehouses and deliver food to these communities so that families don’t have to worry about their next meal.

What’s more, the lack of healthy food that is locally available in these food deserts perpetuates a dangerous cycle of health inequity. Even as Native Americans are combatting nutrition-related diseases, they often lack access to adequate health care. We’re working with Tribal partners to deliver nutrition training and support community projects that champion Food Sovereignty to introduce more nutritional food options. Currently, the Department of Agriculture is also re-evaluating programs to ensure they are supporting nutrition security – and not just food insecurity.

While COVID-19 devastated our nation, it seems to have pushed us in the direction of long-overdue change as well. We hope these conversations on poverty, food security and racial equity continue happening on a national scale so that others can begin to understand what Indigenous people have long known is the reality of life on the reservations.

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