Food insecurity in children is a major challenge in the United States, especially during the current Covid-19 pandemic. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, “At the national level, the Household Pulse Survey data indicate that about 11.8 million children live in households that missed a mortgage or rent payment or sought a deferment, while roughly 3.9 million children are experiencing COVID-19 induced food shortages.” Families living in urban centers, rural communities, and tribal areas face insurmountable challenges during our current national health crisis. Directing resources toward young children is a cost-effective way to improve life chances and is an effective strategy for promoting social equity.
Directing resources toward young children is a cost-effective way to improve life chances and is an effective strategy for promoting social equity. Food security and adequate nutrition are key to a good start in life. A sound nutritional profile promotes many health benefits and facilitates lifelong learning. The Federal government, through the establishment of multiple programs in this area, recognizes its role in promoting food security. At the same time, some intentional adjustments will enhance the ability of these programs to promote social equity. The executive action agenda outlined here recommends using an existing cross-agency priority goal to improve child well-being through a Food Nutrition Service (FNS) initiative implemented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). To improve equitable outcomes in child well-being, we recommend that policy and funding shifts be made to early care and education (ECE) settings serving young children in preschool as well as early and aftercare programs. Also, we suggest a broader agenda to improve food security in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. These recommendations are consistent with and respond to the general challenge for agencies to (1) address social, economic, environmental needs; (2) review policies, programs and practices that foster social equity as outlined in 12 Grand Challenges in Public Administration; and (3) promote social equity in the evidence-based policy environment in the presidential term beginning in 2021.
Over the past 60 years, significant progress has been made toward promoting social equity in both the public and the private sectors in the United States. Prominent examples include actions on civil rights, women’s rights, poverty reduction, and gender equality; and this progress has been hard won. But continued progress remains uneven and, in some cases, has regressed. The roller coaster can be partially explained by macro shifts in economic conditions and political priorities. Even in this context, social equity can be advanced by building a strong federal platform that would include increased awareness, rigorous measurement, formal evaluation and consistent application.
While equity in the distribution of public services and administration of programs should be the goal of any presidential administration, it is difficult to move programs and practices toward equity through legislative actions alone. Therefore, one of the social equity recommendations set forth for the first year of the presidential term beginning in 2021 emphasizes administrative frameworks, data collection, research and evaluation that should be put in place quickly. This would allow agencies to determine if existing services are effective and equitably distributed, if new initiatives are likely to have equitable impact, and if statutory changes are warranted.
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