Congresswomen Marcia Fudge headlines HSAN on food insecurity

More than 150 people heard from the Honorable Congresswoman Marcia L. Fudge (D-Warrensville Heights) at the Human Services Advocacy Network (HSAN) via Zoom on June 19. Fudge has been a champion for food access during her tenure in Congress, and provided opening remarks about the issue of food insecurity during and after the pandemic. In her comments, Fudge described how difficult it is to ensure that people get food on the table. “We still have problems feeding hungry people every day,” she said, “now we have millions of American out of work and now we’re feeding more people.” Fudge went on to describe how Congress has tried to respond to the various needs of Americans during the pandemic, explaining, “We’ve tried to make it easier to access what they need.” However, she warned that people must continue the fight against food insecurity, saying “it is a battle to feed hungry children in this country, it is a battle to feed disabled people.”

“We still have problems feeding hungry people every day,” said Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (D-Warrensville Heights). “It is a battle to feed hungry children in this country”

After Fudge completed her remarks, attendees heard a panel discussion moderated by Rachel Cahill, a consultant with The Center for Community Solutions and an expert on food insecurity and SNAP. The panel included Eyang Garrison, Legislative Director for Congresswoman Fudge, Kevin Gowan, Director of the Cuyahoga County Job and Family Services (JFS), Tiffany Scruggs, Director of Benefits Outreach and Client Services for the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, and Zulma Zabala, Chief Executive Officer of East End Neighborhood House, Inc.

Cahill opened the moderated discussion by asking Garrison to discuss some of the policy initiatives that Congresswoman Fudge’s office has worked on. Garrison described a number of programs, including the authorization of Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program, which provides eligible families across the State of Ohio a one-time payment via a prepaid card to help purchase groceries.

Gowan then chimed in by describing how Cuyahoga County has seen a massive increase in the number of applications for food assistance, and that the county has seen a multi-million dollar increase in the amount of benefits that have been authorized. Cahill followed that comment by mentioning that, while this program is enormously beneficial to families, it also represents dollars which go directly into the local economy. Gowan said that the county has also made enormous strides in reducing phone wait times for authorization and reauthorization of benefits, due in part to increased flexibility provided by the federal and state governments. Zabala mentioned that she wants to ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable populations in Cleveland, including seniors, are not just met during the pandemic but that people also remember these citizens after the pandemic is over. She praised the work of organizations across the Greater Cleveland area, who have collaborated frequently during the pandemic, to ensure that access to goods and services are not interrupted. Even so, Zabala said there should be more uniformity in how benefits are accessed, so that it’s easier for people to get connected to resources. Zabala explained that “We [have] got to start thinking a little more creatively on how we cross each other’s departments and organizations so that we can eliminate barriers.”

Organizations must work hard to overcome systemic racism and reduce racial disparities which are highlighted by the pandemic

Scruggs said that the Greater Cleveland Food Bank has been able to do just that by adapting to the different needs of area residents during the pandemic. She said that in order to ensure that seniors have access to food, for example, the food bank has increased the number of in home-delivered meals.

The panelists also noted racial disparities that existed before the pandemic, and that organizations must work hard to overcome systemic racism and reduce those disparities, which are highlighted by the pandemic. Panelists urged the audience to stay engaged and involved by advocating that food insecurity remain a top policy priority.

Community Solutions would like to thank Congresswoman Fudge and all of the panelists, who helped to make this HSAN a success. We look forward to seeing you at the next HSAN.