Senator discusses food desert legislation, Trump during SWVA visit
by Shawn Nowlin
Being a Democratic politician for over two decades has taught Sen. Warner several things. Among them, he says, is that nobody in government accomplishes anything by themselves. He also said in a 2018 CNN interview that, “always having an open mind and being willing to compromise has been vital to what I’ve been able to accomplish in Washington D.C.”
The senator led a round-table discussion, Wednesday, Feb. 20, that included nonprofit leaders, elected officials and healthcare professionals, about nutritional issues and food deserts inside local headquarters of Feeding America Southwest Virginia in Salem.
“It’s a pretty unfortunate commentary that in 2019 this many Americans, this many Virginians, have to go to bed hungry and not have access to quality food,” he said. “The recent government shutdown showed how many people are simply one paycheck away from falling into food vulnerability. We should never have been in a circumstance where we’re shutting down the government over a political dispute.”
During the 35-day government shutdown, FASWV distributed food to Transportation Security Administration at Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport as well as federal prison employees in Lee County.
The Healthy Food for All Americans (HFAAA) Act, a federal bill that amends the Internal Revenue Code to allow tax credits and grants for activities that provide access to healthy food in food deserts, was introduced by Warner in 2017. The bipartisan- supported bill will be reintroduced in March.
More than one million Virginians live in food deserts which are defined as “urban areas in which it is difficult to purchase good-quality fresh or affordable food.” Warner is the first to admit those numbers are unacceptable.
Virginia’s Commissioner of Agriculture Dr. Jewel Bronaugh wholeheartedly agrees. Bronaugh, a former dean of Virginia State University’s College of Agriculture, was instrumental in the making of the 2015 documentary Living in a Food Desert.
“I thought it would die and go away after we presented it, but it really put a face on the issue. We went into communities and talked about the food access issue,” Bronaugh said. “I walked around this building today and everyone is in such good nature. I can’t even begin to complement the organization on the wonderful job that is done every single day.”
During the gathering, Roanoke College faculty member Liz Ackley emphasized why it’s important to think of ways to make grocery stores in food deserts more sustainable. She also discussed the importance of making sure that the employees hired are from the community.
“We noticed that without that piece, there can be a lack of ownership in the community and so the likelihood that folks will shop there tends to go down,” she said.
Food giant Kroger recently purchased a van and partnered with local non-profits to deliver food directly to underserved communities.
“Customers today are looking for convenience like online shopping or grocery delivery,” added Allison McGee, corporate affairs manager, Kroger. “As a result, grocers are investing less in brick and mortar stores.”
Senator Warner said he understands Virginians want transparency and effectiveness from the elected officials they send to Washington D.C. As he put it, “If we are going to make sure that we bring down the cost of healthcare, if we are going to deal with chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes, we’ve got to make sure that Virginians and Americans have access to good, quality, healthy food.”