Partners from the Yale School of Public Health joined local and national political leaders in December to announce increased federal funding to Connecticut for a program that will provide thousands of senior citizens with a healthier diet.
The new funding from the Commodity Supplemental Food Program will give some 3,000 low-income seniors throughout Connecticut a monthly boxful of healthy, non-perishable food as well as nutritional education. The program goes into effect later this year.
Connecticut lawmakers were successful in securing funding for Connecticut as part of the Omnibus Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2015 that was recently signed into law by President Barack Obama. Connecticut’s U.S. Senators, Christopher Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, D-third District, and New Haven Mayor Toni Harp announced the funding during a press conference on December 22 at the Atwater Senior Center in New Haven.
Efforts to secure the funding centered on the New Haven Food Policy Council, a group of residents appointed by the city to address local and regional food issues. The Food Policy Council is supported by CARE: the Community Alliance for Research and Engagement, a research group at the Yale School of Public Health, that focuses on social, environmental and behavioral health risk factors.
In New Haven, where wealth disparities compound widening health disparities, residents are at elevated risk for a range of chronic diseases when compared to their peers in Connecticut and the country as a whole.
As current chair of the Food Policy Council, CARE’s Alycia Santilli has overseen a growing movement to address local food insecurity, including efforts to make the reinstatement of the food program a priority for Connecticut.
“This is an opportunity to recognize the power of local organizing and coalition building to bring change. Because of these efforts thousands of seniors on restricted income will be less hungry,” Santilli said.
Alongside CARE’s Billy Bromage and Kate Walton, community relations coordinator at the Whalley Avenue Stop & Shop, the Food Policy Council appealed to anti-hunger advocates and government partners, working with End Hunger CT!, the Connecticut Food Bank, Foodshare and the Connecticut Department of Social Services to mobilize over a dozen organizations to press legislators on the supplemental funding. A delegation of local activists traveled to House and Senate offices on Capitol Hill in March as part of the annual anti-hunger day to further highlight Connecticut’s case for the food funding.
Sen. Murphy said there is in no doubt that the increased funding for healthy food is desperately needed.
“Chronic hunger is a clear threat to public health. It was important to be part of this program, to expand coverage to more seniors in Connecticut,” he said.
It is “impossible” for many seniors living on fixed incomes to afford a regular diet of healthy foods, he said. Pledging to continue to fight for people in need, long-time anti-hunger advocate Representative DeLauro said that one in seven people in Connecticut are unsure where their next meal will come from. “Connecticut is the richest state in the nation, but people are hungry. The food program provides a lifeline for low income people, but the need is far greater,” she said.
The initial funding for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program is only the beginning, she added. More work is needed to tackle hunger and health in New Haven. The program is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Working to remove the barriers that prevent traditional public health programs from achieving success, CARE focuses on grassroots neighborhood organizing and policy-level public health interventions. Through successive local health surveys and years of working with residents, food insecurity—or chronic hunger—has emerged as a critical health issue that affects many low-income New Haven residents, who are twice as likely to suffer ill health and end up in hospital.