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A Human Right to Food Should Be a Value We All Champion



California's most vulnerable children, seniors, immigrants and communities should have the right to access affordable and healthy food, says state Sen. Melissa Hurtado. (Shutterstock)
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The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted systemic inequalities across a wide spectrum of societal issues, ranging from access to healthcare to home internet connectivity. Communities received resources and aid at unprecedented levels from federal and state programs in order to counter early predictions about potential disruptions to our supply chains and food security.

Research has in fact shown that due to the surge in resources made available during the pandemic, food insecurity declined significantly for all households with children, from 14.8 percent in 2020 to 12.5 percent in 2021. That progress can become permanent if we stay the course expanding nutritional assistance.

Picture of Melissa Hurtado

State Sen. Melissa Hurtado


Our progress combatting food insecurity, made during an unprecedented emergency, is not only noteworthy, but it should also serve as an impetus going forward to ensure we help more families. California produces almost half of the U.S.’s fruits and vegetables, and yet 20 percent or roughly 10 million of its residents struggle with food insecurity.

We expanded access to nutritional assistance programs during the pandemic because no family should have to decide between covering housing costs and buying groceries. I still believe that, and it is why I am carrying Senate Bill 245, the Food 4 All Act, and Senate Bill 628, the Human Right to Food Act, to continue our state’s progress combatting food security by helping our most vulnerable children, seniors, immigrants and communities access healthy food.

Bill Benefits 75,000 Californians

The governor’s initial 2022-23 proposed budget deferred expanding food assistance benefits to all persons regardless of their age and immigrations status until 2027, which would have not only undone any hard fought progress achieved on food security, but likely have set us further back than pre-pandemic levels. Following criticism from advocates and the community about this postponement, I was glad, alongside my legislative ally Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, to see the updated budget align with Senate Bill 245’s priorities, and an advanced accessibility timeline, meaning 75,000 Californians are eligible for benefits beginning in October 2025.

To align the state with local realities on the ground, Senate Bill 628 would clarify that it is the established policy of the state that every human being has the right to access sufficient affordable and healthy food. It would require all relevant state agencies to consider this when revising, adopting, or establishing policies, regulations, and grant criteria pertaining to the distribution of sufficiently affordable and adequate food.

We know that food-insecure children are twice as likely to report being in fair or poor health, and at least 1.4 times more likely to have asthma while food-insecure seniors have limitations in activities of daily living comparable to food-secure seniors fourteen years older. We also know that research links the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) with improved health outcomes and roughly 25 percent annual lower health care costs, so progress today ensures financial and health benefits in the future.

We know that millions, or roughly 30 percent, of eligible Californians are not receiving nutritional assistance, which should further compel us to remedy this shortfall going forward. Every child and senior, every family and every community deserves the nutritional assistance necessary to live a healthy and productive life, and it is why our state’s budgets should adequately prioritize this issue if we want to continue making progress helping some of California’s most vulnerable children, seniors, immigrants and communities.   

About the Writer

Senator Melissa Hurtado represents the 16th Senate District in the California Legislature, which includes portions of Fresno, Tulare, Kings and Kern Counties. Hurtado is Chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, and a member of the Environmental Quality, Health, Human Services, and Natural Resources and Water Committee, and Joint Legislative Committee on Climate Change Policies.

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