Legislature made progress on hunger, but there’s more to do

June 2, 2023 7:18 am

Photo by Duane Prokop/Getty Images for Feeding America.

Our mission at Second Harvest Heartland is to end hunger together. For the past several years, that has driven the organization to innovate and grow rapidly so we could serve even more Minnesotans facing food insecurity. We provided 113 million meals in 2022 and are on pace to do even more in 2023 in response to the extraordinary — and historic — demand for emergency food assistance. We play an important role in fighting hunger in our state. 

And yet, as I wrote previously in this space, goodwill and charity alone will not end hunger. 

When we say we want to end hunger “together,” we include the neighbors we serve, local community leaders, program partners and other nonprofit organizations, and policymakers at the local, state and federal levels. 

With that in mind, now that the 2023 legislative session is finished, we are taking a comprehensive look at what was done to fight hunger and also what was done to help prevent hunger — an approach that is reflective of larger transformations in the way in which we as the food banking community think about our anti-hunger advocacy. We are both excited and grateful for many of the new investments included in this year’s budget. 

Perhaps most notably, making school meals universally available has long been a policy priority for the anti-hunger community, and its passage this year will help ensure more kids have access to food for nine months of the year. 

Investments totaling more than $1 billion in affordable housing and renter assistance will help to lower costs for thousands of Minnesotans, helping them avoid the rent vs. food tradeoffs we too often see. 

The new state-funded child tax credit will decrease child poverty rates by a third, according to current estimates, giving families more resources to put towards groceries and other necessities. 

And by guaranteeing access to paid family leave and earned sick time, more Minnesotans will be able to remain in the workforce while caring for themselves, a new child or a family member.

When it comes to food insecurity specifically, in addition to universal school meals, a variety of new — albeit mostly one-time — investments in Minnesota’s hunger-relief network will help patch some of the holes left by the pandemic and temporarily expand the capacity of important programs, ranging from senior nutrition to prepared meals, one of Second Harvest Heartland’s top priorities this session. 

As I said, there is much for which we can all be grateful.

State lawmakers did miss an important opportunity to provide urgent assistance to families facing food insecurity, however, by failing to provide meaningful new funding for food banks through the state’s Farm to Food Shelf program. As I wrote in February, this little-known but hugely important program helps keeps shelves stocked with the most in-demand items by connecting more locally grown or processed dairy, protein and produce to food distribution sites throughout the state. 

With more than $17 billion available and need at a record high, we’re disappointed that lawmakers didn’t invest in all levels of Minnesota’s emergency food system this session. As we often say in Minnesota, though, there’s always next year.

To that point, with so many of the Legislature’s big-ticket items crossed off the to-do list this year, making significant progress toward ending hunger in Minnesota should be a goal that the Walz administration and state lawmakers can rally around next session and beyond. 

Just as Minnesotans would expect our elected leaders to respond forcefully to other emergencies — pandemics, droughts, wildfires, floods, etc. — so too should they be ready to meet this moment. 

With federal lawmakers poised to expand restrictions on emergency food assistance as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling — and possibly in the next five-year federal farm bill — state lawmakers will have both the responsibility and the opportunity to lead the way and make Minnesota a shining example of what’s possible when we work together. 

We can’t wait.

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Zach Rodvold
Zach Rodvold

Zach Rodvold has worked in state and federal government, political campaigns and issue advocacy for more than 20 years, starting in the office of U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone. He served as state director for U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and later as director of external affairs for the DFL House caucus under former Speaker Paul Thissen. Most recently, Rodvold led the Minnesota office of U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, whose 2018 campaign he also managed. Rodvold joined Second Harvest Heartland as its director of Government Affairs in 2023.