Adriana Hassan and Tommaso Angelini Proposal on Hunger in the State of Michigan

Context

Reference to a current Michigan bill or law that relates in some way to your proposal:

House Bill 4207 is similar to our proposal in that it offers developmental incentives for grocery stores to build in urban areas. It is similar because it is giving organizations funds to create options for people to purchase the foods they need. Our proposal is taking this idea and moving it a little bit further. We want to offer these incentives to a wider group of people and specifically target the distribution of healthier foods.

http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(4p4bayhsencv3h23qxthnd5s))/mileg.aspx?page=getObject&objectName=2017-HB-4207

Why this proposal will make a difference in the lives of students of all ages across Michigan, or a significant subgroup (by age, background, economic status, and/or region, etc.) of students in Michigan:

We believe this proposal will make a difference in the lives of students of all ages particularly that come from low income families. As we discuss later, these students often do not have the ability to fulfill all of their regular meals with healthy foods. This is primarily due to the inability to access these foods at a low cost. With this added money, companies and organizations are able to provide these foods at a lower cost and help students and people across ages receive the nutrients they need.

How and where did you learn about the issues underlying your proposal?

We started learning about the issues underlying in our proposal through our service work, which we detail later in this proposal.  These thoughts were refined after attending different town hall meetings with Markell Miller. From there, we conducted our own research through the internet and additionally spoke to librarians at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business to help us look more extensively for information regarding these issues.  We also spoke in depth with our consultants. They gave us insight that has been backed with years of experience in the industry and helped guide us to formulating a fully functional idea.

How has your service impacted the proposal?

Our service activity has greatly influenced this proposal. Prior to volunteering with Food Gatherers, we had limited knowledge regarding the magnitude of food inequity throughout America. More specifically, we did not know how prevalent it was in Washtenaw County.  With doing various activities for Food Gatherers, we have been able to interact with many different stakeholders to this issue. While working at the soup kitchen, we have spoken to residents who rely on this food for sustenance. They mentioned that they enjoy eating healthier food and would not look to unhealthy options if they could have a more affordable method to receive it. When sorting goods, we spoke to volunteers about their thoughts and how they think more funds provided to these organizations would change/improve  the work they do as volunteers. Additionally, we have gone on food runs where we have seen first hand the impact that delivering fresh foods to differing locations has. While completing these various activities, we have cultivated a widely-spread knowledge base regarding this proposal and those impacted. We have recognized the importance of these organizations and the tools required to keep them running. Also, by aligning our proposal with the long-term goals of the people actually experiencing the problem of inadequate access to food, we hope to partner and expedite that process for them and the community as a whole.  

Link to your media artifact(s) giving background on the issue:

Media Artifact

Consultations

CONSULTATION 1: Dr. Islam Siddiqui, former Chief Agricultural Negotiator in the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR). Prior to this, he was Vice President for Science and Regulatory Affairs at CropLife America an agricultural trade association, a Clinton and Obama Administration appointee, and a career official of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Dr. Siddiqui’s experience working for the Clinton administration in the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Obama administration as the Chief Agricultural Negotiator made him a great person to speak with regarding our proposal and food insecurity in general. When speaking with Dr. Siddiqui he emphasized the role that negotiation plays in any major type of policy proposal with legislators. Drawing from his extensive background in bilateral and multilateral negotiations on policy coordination, Siddiqui inspired us to not only focus on the solution, but also how we would plan on backing it up in front of legislators and what kind of concessions or compromises we would be willing to make in order to push the bill through. One of the things that stuck with us from our conversation with Siddiqui was when he touched upon the importance of agriculture to supporting jobs and revitalizing communities. He acknowledged that the problem we identified is multifaceted in that it is related to health, but also economics and that is why it is a challenge that has persisted for quite some time. There is a significant correlation between wealth and food insecure related diseases/illnesses. The reason this is a vicious cycle, he mentioned, is because the wealthy for the most part want to continue to service their own areas and thus the poorer, impoverished parts of our country are neglected and continue to struggle. Food accessibility is the key here - we have plenty of food in this country, it is the distribution chain and the funding that goes to these distribution partners that is the issue.

We were also able to discuss our different proposed solutions with Siddiqui, to which he praised us for coming up with three different, yet interesting ideas to combat food insecurity and the illnesses that arise from it. During his professional career, Siddiqui discussed how he and his colleagues would often take a similar approach to brainstorming - coming up with multiple unique ways to tackle a similar problem.

CONSULTATION 2: Markell Miller, Director of Community Food Programs at Food Gatherers

We spoke with Markell Miller the Director of Community Food Programs at Food Gatherers. She specializes in the public policy aspect of driving change within the local food bank. When she came and spoke to the caucus she spent ample time discussing the importance of SNAP benefits and different incentive programs provided for those who do not receive healthy foods. When talking, we ran through our different proposal ideas and she influenced us in making an informed decision about which route we should pursue. For the summer food program, she explained that Food Gatherers is a sponsor that is registered with the Michigan Department of Education so they handle the majority of the administrative and financial responsibilities for their program. They do not, however, prepare the meals. They contract out other companies to drive and prepare the goods and then utilize Food Gatherer volunteers to serve the food.  When she discussed this, Tommaso and Adriana started thinking that the other solutions were a better fit. If Food Gatherers alone had to take these extensive measures just to produce one program in Washtenaw county, it will be hard to mandate all food banks to do this. Additionally, Markell mentioned that most food banks across Michigan already participate in some form of attempt to help give students food in the summer.

We then spent the remainder of the time talking about incentive programs. She spoke at length about how those programs seem to be the easiest to implement. While they are more costly than some of their alternatives, they catch on quickly because the concept is simple and people tend to use it. This helped shift our thinking towards believing that the incentive idea was more f a possibility.

CONSULTATION 3: Julie Cassidy, Policy Analyst at the Michigan League for Public Policy

We spoke with Julie Cassidy, a Policy Analyst at the Michigan League for Public Policy. While speaking with Julie we touched upon each one of our proposed ideas and their various pros and cons. While discussing our solution to create a law that would allow taxpayers to make charitable deductions to food banks, Julie said this:

“There are a lot of check offs on our tax forms - about a dozen, maybe a bit less - and a lot of worthy causes that could benefit from a tax deduction, but we can only include so many. These causes end up competing with each other for these resources and it becomes difficult for a taxpayer to decide which cause to donate to. Yes, a tax deduction could provide substantial resources to these food banks and non-profits, which may ultimately significantly address the issue of food insecurity and the various illnesses associated with it, but there may be a better way to solve this issue based on your other proposed solutions.”

We also discussed our idea to create an incentive program to help distribute grants to projects that help SNAP consumers purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. Julie said that grants are a great way to go about this, because even though they force the government to actually spend money they are saving money in the long run when it comes to addressing an issue such as food insecurity. “In the long run it is less expensive to help people buy healthy food than the health insurance and medical fees that are associated with people not eating healthy diets and not having the same access to fresh fruit and produce. Furthermore, it is a boon to the local and national economy when people are not getting sick as much. Think about it, when people get sick they do not show up to work or are less productive on the job. This is a drag on the economy, and your idea to award grants on a competitive basis to projects that help lower the costs for SNAP consumers is a great way to think about this issue. It is important to look at grants from a holistic lens.” When it comes to funding an idea like this, it will come down to tax revenue generated from taxpayers, but the money would end up being granted by either the Michigan Department of Agriculture or the Michigan Department of Education. Overall, it was a very informative conversation and we really appreciate her help in our proposal process.

Prospectus:

In the United States, and more importantly in the state of Michigan, the lack of access and availability of healthy nutritious food is extremely high. Also known as food insecurity, this issue is a significant problem in the state of Michigan, where 15.1% of the population does not have access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food. On the other hand, the United States fares a little better where only 12.7% of the entire population is classified as “food insecure”. In order to alleviate this issue food banks have been developed to collect and distribute food. . Even though food banks have dramatically helped people without access, they do not supply enough food for full families to live off of in certain areas. Without this full amount of food, families have to supplement with cheap options that may not be healthy. Many health problems come along with this, one of them being obesity. Michigan struggles with obesity as 32.5% of adults are considered obese, which ranks 10th most in the United States. One of the premier issues that the state of Michigan is dealing with to help address the obesity issue is making sure its residents have access to fresh fruits, vegetables and proteins. In Michigan 1.8 million residents - 300,000 of whom are children - live in communities with limited access to nutritious food. This is particularly worrisome as these families turn to alternatives such as fast food or will even choose to skip meals. When healthy food is readily available, children and adults develop better eating habits and better overall health, including a decreased risk of obesity.   

 

Potential Solutions:

SOLUTION 1:Incentives

One of the ways governments are able to encourage people and companies to contribute to certain causes is through incentive programs. Incentive programs can help businesses make certain types of investments through government provided financial assistance. For this solution, we suggest the government provides grants on a competitive basis to projects that help low-income consumers participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) purchase more fresh fruits and produce through cash or tax incentives that increase their purchasing power at locations like farmers markets and grocery stores. These grants would go towards non-profit agencies, such as Food Gatherers in Washtenaw County, government agencies, SNAP authorized retailers, and many other types of organizations.

 

Sources:

 

http://bakertilly.com/insights/why-do-governments-provide-incentives

 

http://sustainableagriculture.net/publications/grassrootsguide/local-food-systems-rural-development/food-insecurity-nutrition-incentives/#eligible

 

SOLUTION 2: Tax Law

One way that the Michigan state government could address the issue of food insecurity and the funding of food banks and non-profits is by enacting legislation. We believe that one of the main issues with food insecurity and the many health problems that ensue because of it is the lack of funding for organizations such as Food Gatherers that distribute fresh produce to soup kitchens, and other partner companies. One way this issue could be solved is by creating a place on the state income tax return to allow taxpayers to contribute to certain types of hunger relief funds or non-profits with funding ultimately granted to local food banks. This would make it significantly easier for individuals to donate to food banks and would also enable them to lower their taxes through a deduction on their state taxes.

 

Sources:

 

http://www.foodgatherers.org/

 

http://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/state-legislation-on-hunger.aspx

 

SOLUTION 3: Summer Programs

Food insecurity is often seasonal for children under the age of 18.  Through programs such as the BackPack program, children attending public schools receive free food through the National School Lunch Program and the National School Breakfast Program. These help assist low-income families feed their children with proper nutrients throughout the school year. These supplements are great, however, there are large gaps in the calendar year that children go without  food assistance. Our third solution is to enact a law that mandates all food banks provide programs to bridge the gap for hungry children during school vacations. This would enable children to receive the sufficient foods and nutrients to survive without having to resort to unhealthy foods.

 

Sources:

http://www.feedingamerica.org/our-work/hunger-relief-programs/backpack-program/

 

http://www.foodgatherers.org/?module=Page&sID=summer-food

Reaction or advice from a Faculty Member or Topic Coordinator:

During office hours, we spoke to Jeff Stanzler regarding our prospectus and possible solutions to this problem. He advised to refine our thought process and make decisions regarding  the audience we really plan to address. From that point, he discussed the importance of fine-tuning our ideas so that is very specific and has a practical application. It is important for us to be able to walk through exactly how our proposal would finally work. This impacted our thinking greatly when turning to write our solutions.  Throughout that process, we were thinking about three separate age demographics to help alleviate inequitable food conditions. Mr. Stanzler assisted us in specifically identifying which one of those we wanted to target and understand that we are only trying to change a tiny bit of this problem because it is overambitious to believe we could take on more.

Research process:

We had quite an extensive research process and as we progressed through our reading and discussions, we changed how we approached solving the issue of inequitable food access.  When we started working at food gatherers and started reading about food insecurity within michigan, we thought the primary issues lied in the inability to access healthy foods. Which remains true, but there are numerous of other components that constitute that issue and it would be an extremely large task to try to address that. After reading further, we began to understand that we needed to select one area of it and then figure out how to solve that. The way we did this was thinking about our three solutions. When we looked at those we targeted three completely different demographics to interact with in order to create our proposal. After thinking about our three solutions we spoke with individuals who have had years of experience in the industry and took their opinions and then formulated our own proposal.

Author contributions:

Overall, we did most of the work together and believe that we both contribute equally, albeit in different ways to the development, research, and writing of this proposal. Tommaso completed a large portion of the research while Adriana emphasized creation and editing of proposal and language. Tommaso also spoke with Dr. Islam Siddiqui while Adriana spoke with Julie Cassidy and Markell Miller. We both volunteered at Food Gatherers, at the soup kitchen and at the main warehouse, and worked together to really immerse ourselves in the problem we needed to address.

Formal Proposal Preambulatory clauses

WHEREAS.... The food insecurity rate in the state of Michigan is 15.1%, which is higher than the national average of 13.4%.

WHEREAS....  In Michigan 1.8 million residents - 300,000 of whom are children - live in communities with limited access to nutritious food. This is particularly worrisome as these families turn to alternatives such as fast food or will even choose to skip meals.

WHEREAS.... The families that DO have access to healthy foods, primarily turn to fast food and unhealthy options because of the extremely low cost.

 

Operative clauses

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED....

1. The Department of Agriculture will create a Food Insecurity Grant program that will provide some of the funds for the development of farmers markets and food banks and will be awarded on a competitive basis.  

2.  The grant program will start off in January 2019 and will first be a two to three year pilot program in order to first assess its effectiveness and minimize costs.

3. Grants will be awarded on a competitive basis, which means that large corporations, small businesses, non-profits, and food banks can all apply for these funds in order to help their capital investments.

4. Projects that win these grants will be focused on helping low-income, SNAP consumers, increase their purchasing power so that they have more accessibility to fresh fruit and produce.

5. The Department of Agriculture will ultimately determine which projects are funded and will administer the funds accordingly.

6. The funding will come from the “discretionary” budget that the State Department of Agriculture has as opposed to the “mandatory” budget. This will give the department more flexibility and will prevent other major programs from being cut.

7. The competitive basis means that grant ideas will be compared against each other as opposed to simply giving out grants that have a positive impact. The Department of Agriculture will review applications through a formal review process, in light of the legislative and regulatory requirements established for a program. The review process gives the Department of Agriculture discretion to determine which applications best address the problem and are the most worthy of funding.

8. As part of this review process the Department will conduct a rigorous cost analysis of the proposed project to determine if the costs are allowable and reasonable. The office that conducts this type of analysis is known as the "Grants Management Office". Furthermore, there may be a negotiation process involving negotiating all aspects of the grant award with the applicant. The process could potentially involve explaining to the recipient that the budget must be changed/edited to comply with regulations.

Counter-arguments:

1. In order to generate the funds to support a grant program, you need the government to distribute capital to these projects. As a result, the government may have to stop spending as much money in one sector and invest more in addressing this issue. It may be difficult to propose a bill that then undermines another major investment that the state government is already intent on addressing.

2.  There could be some political bias when the Department of Agriculture determines which projects are funded and it can create major controversy between different non-profits. It will also be hard for the DOA to justify why one organization should receive the money over another one without a strict rubric.

3. The government cannot guarantee they are going to see these long-term wholesome returns on their investment. We can argue that they will ultimately spend lower on individuals who develop healthy habits, but will not have any sample cases on this.

4. The state may be more open to a low or zero interest loan program where entrepreneurs, businesses, and corporations borrow money that will then go towards funding the development of projects that benefit low income, SNAP consumers purchase fresh fruit and produce. This might be attractive as the state would be making money from interest payments.

Costs and funding:

We recommend starting off with a pilot program to (1) assess whether or not corporations, small businesses, and nonprofits take advantage of the grant program and to (2) gauge the effectiveness of the grant program at incentivizing low-income and SNAP recipients to purchase fresh fruit and produce and (3) to minimize costs as a pilot program would inherently cost more than a full scale implementation of the program.

 

The chief way the government gets the money it spends is through taxation. Figure 1 shows the relative sources of federal government tax revenues. Forty-five percent of federal tax revenue comes from individuals’ personal income taxes. Figure 2 also shows the projected 2019 budget for the state of Michigan, which highlights that 44% goes to “Health and Human Services”, which is the category that our proposal falls under.

The main way the government gets funds for grants is by collecting taxes, in this case it will be state taxes, part of which will be then designated to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and then based on their individual budgets will then be distributed through grants.This proposal does not create lost tax revenue as we do not suggest lowering taxes, we simply suggest that the government creates a way to incentivize SNAP consumers to spend their money on fresh produce and vegetables, as well as also creating a medium for them to do so. Food banks and non-profits have the goal to reduce food insecurity, but one of the issues with these mediums is that they do not have enough funding. By implementing a competitive grant system for these types of projects this can be achieved.

Fiscally conservative legislators might be against the idea of a grant program, even if it means saving the government money in healthcare expenditures. As a result, we believe it may make sense to create a two year pilot project, which would help fund the development farmers markets -  which are very common in the state of California for example - and food banks, which could help incentivize SNAP consumers to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. The focus would be on gauging the effectiveness of the pilot program before expanding it.

 

 

Figure 1: Sources of Federal Tax Revenues

 

Figure 2: Michigan Budget for 2019

 


Source:

https://www.mercatus.org/publication/government-spending-101/where-does-government-get-money-it-spends

http://map.feedingamerica.org/county/2015/overall/michigan

References:

What is Hunger. (2016, March 18). Retrieved April 04, 2018, from http://www.bread.org/what-hunger

BackPack Program. (n.d.). Retrieved April 04, 2018, from http://www.feedingamerica.org/our-work/hunger-relief-programs/backpack-program/

Bouffard, K. (2015, March 19). Report: Michigan lacks easy access to wholesome foods. Retrieved April 04, 2018, from http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/michigan/2015/03/19/report-michigan-lacks-easy-access-wholesome-foods/25042641/

Michigan. (n.d.). Retrieved April 04, 2018, from http://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/michigan/?referrer=https://www.google.com/

Summer Food Service Program for Children. (n.d.). Retrieved April 04, 2018, from http://www.foodgatherers.org/?module=Page&sID=summer-food

Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives. (n.d.). Retrieved April 04, 2018, from http://sustainableagriculture.net/publications/grassrootsguide/local-food-systems-rural-development/food-insecurity-nutrition-incentives/#eligible

Insights. (n.d.). Retrieved April 04, 2018, from http://bakertilly.com/insights/why-do-governments-provide-incentives

Markell Miller, Director of Community Food Programs, markell@foodgatherers.org


 

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Total votes: 34