Last week, President-elect Joe Biden announced Governor Tom Vilsack as his nominee for Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), a role he held for eight years during the Obama administration. With a nation facing rising inequality and food insecurity, particularly among young children, Mr. Vilsack and the USDA have the critical responsibility and opportunity to implement policies that address hunger, racial equity, economic opportunity, farmworkers’ rights, and climate change.
We are eager for Governor Vilsack, as the leader of the USDA, to recognize and correct the racial injustices within the USDA and demonstrate commitment to reversing its track record of discriminating against farmers of color. We also hope in his position that he will continue to advance policies in school nutrition standards, SNAP benefits, and food education. We look forward to working with the Biden administration to achieve these goals.
When it comes to specific issues around food and hunger, Governor Vilsack carries a history of advancing federal nutrition programs from both an access and a meal quality lens. FoodCorps looks forward to working with Mr. Vilsack to advance equity and justice in food systems by addressing the following priorities:
- Make school meals free for all students, permanently. Just as we don’t charge for textbooks and school bus rides, we should not charge students for something as vital as food. School meals have become a critical lifeline for kids and families during this time.
- Protect access to healthy food for kids and families. The USDA and the Biden administration can work with the new Congress to pass an urgent relief package that includes strengthened SNAP benefits, and ensure no kids are left hungry as the country continues to grapple with the economic impacts of the pandemic.
- Resource school nutrition departments and leaders. School nutrition professionals take on the essential duty of feeding our nation’s kids every day. Yet school meal programs are facing huge financial shortfalls, given the pandemic’s impact on participation rates and expenses. Vilsack’s USDA must prioritize student health by investing in school kitchen infrastructure and staff while unlocking school meal’s untapped potential to stimulate local economies and support climate resilience through farm to school purchasing that centers farmers of color.
- Support the Justice for Black Farmers Act. In 1920 there were nearly 1 million Black farmers in the United States. Today, due to systemic racism, it is estimated that there are less than 50,000 Black farmers. More needs to be done to protect Black farmers from losing their land, provide land grants to create a new generation of Black farmers, and restore the land base that has been lost.
- Ensure community and Black, Indigenous, and POC representation in political appointees. Community representatives are often the best champions for food justice and food security in schools. The administration should consider appointing a chief equity officer to embed and integrate an equity-driven perspective into staffing, policy, and management decisions across the federal government.
FoodCorps is a non-partisan, non-profit organization. FoodCorps staff and FoodCorps AmeriCorps members may not participate in any partisan or seemingly partisan activities during work time charged to a Corporation for National and Community Service funded grant or while earning AmeriCorps service hours. No federal funds were used to prepare or distribute advocacy actions.