President Obama’s Advisory Council for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships released a report last week that provides recommendations to the incoming President on combatting economic inequality in America. This report, Strengthening Efforts to Increase Opportunity and End Poverty, argues that we must go beyond service provision to address past and present systems of structural racism and discrimination.
The factors have given rise to current levels of extreme inequality and financial insecurity are numerous and complex. The report’s authors assert that “efforts to substantially alleviate poverty must address underlying economic, social, and racial justice issues” if they are to be effective and sustainable. In addition to historic and present structural discrimination, the report points to a weakening of the social safety net, declining wages, concentrated poverty and wealth, mass incarceration, and a broken immigration system as underlying causes of economic inequality.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as CalFresh, was cited as a fundamental and proven tool to fight poverty and inequality. These grocery benefits lifted as many as 10 million people out of poverty in 2014, including 5 million children. Research shows that children who receive food assistance have lifelong improvements in their educational, health, and economic outcomes. The Food Bank works diligently to increase access and strengthen the CalFresh program through our policy advocacy, direct outreach, and partnerships with county CalFresh departments.
The authors’ primary anti-hunger recommendation is to expand the use of food insecurity screenings in health care settings. They call for federal guidance to health care providers on screening their patients’ access to food, integrating patient responses into their medical record, and providing referrals to nutrition-assistance programs like CalFresh. These practices could combat hunger, improve health outcomes for low-income individuals and families, and reduce health care costs. The Food Bank is very supportive of this recommendation and is currently looking at how we can partner with local health care providers to systematize food insecurity screening and referrals.
Although screening for food insecurity and prescribing programs like CalFresh are moral imperatives in the fight to end hunger, the report issues in-depth recommendations to prevent that need from arising in the first place. The authors argue that in order to fulfill our national commitment to end extreme poverty and hunger in America by 2030, we must shift our understanding of poverty away from individualized instances of “personal responsibility” to work toward economic, social, and racial justice.
To learn more about the Council for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships’ analysis of poverty and solutions to inequality, we encourage you to read the full report.