This year in communities all over Iowa, the holiday season kicked off with long lines of idling cars. Our neighbors were not waiting to see displays of Christmas lights. They were not lining up to be first for the best shopping deals. They were not stuck in bumper-to-bumper holiday traffic.
All over our state, Iowans could be seen lining up at food pantries and other distribution sites for a Thanksgiving meal. Our neighbors were waiting hours for food.
According to Feeding America, more than 300,000 Iowans—including more than 100,000 children—are struggling with hunger. The economic devastation of this pandemic has already pushed many more Iowans to the brink. To keep a roof over their heads, too many Iowans are literally tightening their belts when it comes to food. Right now, our neighbors are skipping meals, filling up on cheap, unhealthy food, and seeking help from feeding assistance programs in record numbers.
We face a difficult winter and, even when the coronavirus is under control, a long road to recovery. For the health of our communities, our families, and our economy, we must act now.
We call on the Iowa Legislature and Governor Reynolds to act swiftly in January to provide immediate additional resources to help Iowans struggling with hunger.
We propose using the state's ending balance (more than $305 million at the end of the 2020 fiscal year) or the state's "rainy day funds" (more than $770 million at the end of the 2020 fiscal year) to provide $30 million or more in immediate supplemental food assistance for Iowans directly and through food banks, food pantries, and other feeding entities in Iowa.
We can efficiently distribute these funds using existing or expanded programs. Options include:
> Supporting community grocery stores and families across Iowa by providing supplemental funds to the 150,000 Iowa households already eligible for supplemental nutrition assistance through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
> Supporting Iowa farmers and families through existing and expanded programs to purchase fresh produce, dairy, and meat products.
> Reaching Iowans struggling with hunger who aren't eligible for USDA programs through existing or expanded food banks, food pantries, soup kitchens, congregate meal providers, and other community food assistance efforts, including home food deliveries for food insecure families.
> Helping Iowa’s restaurants by allowing the use of state supplemental food assistance funds to purchase take-out food.
> Strengthening the food assistance infrastructure by permanently exempting feeding entities, including food banks, food pantries, and congregate meal providers, from Iowa sales tax.
> Expanding communications about food assistance so that more Iowans know about existing and expanded efforts to help those struggling with access to adequate healthy food.
We have the resources to make sure Iowa families get access to the food they need. We know that Iowans have the heart to help our neighbors in this challenging time.
Speak up in support of this effort. Ask your state legislators and Governor Reynolds to provide the immediate help that Iowans need when the Legislature convenes on January 11.
Sarah Trone Garriott is state senator-elect from Polk County. Rob Hogg is a state senator from Linn County.