In partnership with Virginia Hunger Solutions, the Federation of Virginia Food Banks conducted the first statewide Candidate Hunger Survey to learn more about the policy preferences of Congressional candidates across the Commonwealth. Every candidate in every district was asked to respond to the following questions:
1. [insert #] adults and [insert #] children struggle with hunger in your district. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the nation’s most effective anti-hunger program, has been a focal point of the Farm Bill reauthorization process in Congress this year. SNAP helps working families, older Virginians, and others struggling to make ends meet purchase groceries while also having a demonstrated positive impact on the local economy. If elected, would you support changes to SNAP eligibility and/or benefit levels? If so, what changes would you support?
2. [insert #] of people in your district are living in poverty but only [insert #] are using SNAP to put food on the table. As a member of Congress, how would you help ensure that low-income families are able to access the resources for which they are eligible?
3. In Virginia, more than 570,000 students rely on free or reduce price school meals and nearly 275,000 children live in poverty. What is your plan to address child poverty and childhood hunger as a member of Congress? What role should our schools and subsidized childcare settings play in combating the effects of child hunger?
Despite distributing surveys to all campaigns in each district, the following represent the only districts for which we received a response:
Ryan McAdams (Republican): No response
Rep. Donald McEachin (Democrat): No response
Pete Wells (Libertarian):
1. I support the current level of SNAP Benefits. I prefer state and local governments act through policies and strategies to attract more discount grocery stores to open locations in under served areas. My own neighborhood lacks a grocery store so residents without transportation rely on corner markets and canned or frozen foods at higher prices than regular grocery stores. Many hunger issues are exacerbated by food deserts that leave people with inefficient and less healthy choices to spend their food budget on, discount grocers offer fresh produce, meat and dairy are lower prices thus giving SNAP recipients more nutritional value with their current level of benefits.
2. In my own recent past I have personally been eligible for SNAP benefits and chose not to apply for them. The hurdles to applying for benefits are personal and very little the government does will change that for the unemployed and working poor. People know the benefits exist, they know where the local government offices are and if they qualify under current requirements and they apply then they should receive their benefits.
3. School lunch and breakfast programs do a good job to alleviate hunger and help students focus on learning. I encourage state and local governments to adopt policies that help to subsidize their their own specific nutritional needs in a manner best suited to their community. Every state, county, city and town is different and the federal government cannot efficiently create a program that serves them each fairly. Local Communities also should work to find a way to include a breakfast/lunch or snack in to summertime community youth activities when school is not in session.
Delegate Ben Cline (Republican): No response
Jennifer Lewis (Democrat):
1. I strongly support the historic rural-urban compromise on SNAP that has benefitted poor and working people throughout our nation for generations. I support increasing SNAP eligibility or benefit levels to encourage savings, especially amongst the elderly. I also want to see Democrats and Republicans working across the aisle. Just as we can all agree that nobody would support using SNAP benefits to buy alcohol, I want to work with my Republican friends to fight junk food industry lobbyists and ensure that SNAP benefits cannot be used for purchasing soda, energy drinks, or other non-nutritious, unhealthful foods.
2. I support an opt-out provision for SNAP benefits for people accessing government, private, and nonprofit social service agencies. I also support streamlining service provision so that people are not forced to travel repeatedly, often using public transportation to out-of-the-way offices, in order to sign up for benefits. I would also support keeping local SNAP/WIC offices open during non-work hours. Some localities have implemented successful wraparound programs so that parents of low-income children can seek assistance from social service agencies located near or in their child’s school, and I’d like to see this expanded.
3. I strongly support Michelle Obama and Dorothy McAuliffe’s efforts to end childhood hunger in America. I will work hard to remove the influence of food industry lobbyists and fully fund school meals that have adequate nutrition standards. I want to ensure that children in resource-poor neighborhoods have universal access to school breakfast programs and summer feeding programs through community-based organizations. I also support expanding WIC time-frame and income eligibility standards for pregnant and nursing mothers.
Rep. Dave Brat (Republican): No response
Abigail Spanberger (Democrat):
1. In the United States of America, no one should ever go hungry. In Congress, I’ll work to ensure that all Americans have access to healthy, nourishing food. That means fully funding SNAP, and it means opposing eligibility changes that make it harder for struggling families to put meals on the table. The rising cost of nutritious food and the increasing prevalence of food deserts often make it hard for people to choose healthy food options for their family. The federal government provides grant funding to Community Development Corporations and flexible financial assistance through Community Development Financial Institutions to businesses looking to open grocery stores and other healthy food retailers in underserved food deserts across urban and rural america. There is a bipartisan bill, led by Congressmen McEachin and Senators Warner and Kaine, that would increase access to fresh produce in low-income and rural areas. The House version of the Farm Bill would cut food assistance for more than two million people; I believe we can and must do better. We need to think outside the box to help Virginians stay healthy, and I’m open to working with any interested parties, public or private, to make that happen.
2. From press conferences to town halls to constituent newsletters, members of Congress have countless opportunities to spread a message. I’ll use those opportunities to raise awareness of resources like SNAP, and I’ll work with my team to help individual constituents access the resources or services they need. I’ll also support policies that aim to create new resources. We need to strengthen existing initiatives, but we also need to approach the issue creatively. For instance, by using tax credits to bring food banks, farmers’ markets, and low-cost grocery stores into food deserts. A similar approach could help bring equally important resources to communities that are underserved in other ways.
3. Education doesn’t happen in a vacuum: conditions outside the classroom have a powerful effect. Even when children have access to the very best teachers and facilities, poverty and hunger can affect their physical health, emotional well-being, and cognitive development—the whole foundation on which in-school success is built. By expanding the resources and services we offer at schools, we can help students flourish not just in the moment, but all through life. That means offering free and reduced-price meals to every student who needs them, starting in pre-K, and working to end the stigma around accepting those meals. But it also means providing other services, from counseling to after-school programs, that work together with food support to help students realize their full potential.
Joe Walton (Libertarian):
1. I am not an expert in this area and gained valuable insight at the local level as the Chair of the Powhatan County Board of Supervisors. During that tenure I delivered Meals-on-Wheels on a few occasions and was impressed with that organization as well as shocked at the needs of my community. I believe in limited government but also the importance of the individual in society at the hands of our large institutions. It is important to maintain social safety net programs to protect individuals less fortunate and help them stay healthy and as productive as possible. I would support evidence-based changes to such programs such that they can continue to be effective uses of taxpayer and private sector resources, delivered locally where the need is best understood and addressed.
2. I would help by running a professional congressional office and maintaining a presence in the district both personally and through my office to help with maintain awareness and availability of the programs and services available for those in need.
3. I would support evidence-based changes to these programs such that they can continue to be effective uses of taxpayer and private sector resources. I believe strongly that the single best thing our society can do for individual liberty and individual success is early childhood support, education, and programs to keep kids healthy, safe, and on the right track to be productive and self-fulfilled.
Thomas Oh (Republican): No response
Rep. Don Beyer (Democrat):
1. I strongly support SNAP and have spoken and voted in favor of this instrumental program – as well as against the proposed cuts by the Trump Administration – during my time in office.
2. The best means of communication with eligible SNAP recipients is through the schools – as well as through local government social services. I strongly support all efforts and initiatives to make sure those eligible learn of SNAP and take part in it.
3. As noted above, schools are a critical link and communication channel from government to people in need. I work on myriad initiatives to alleviate child and family poverty, from support of local nonprofits which play a critical role, to efforts for affordable housing and affordable health care, to support of SNAP as well as local efforts to get food to needy families. The fight against poverty is ongoing, but with any luck we will have a Democratic majority at least in the House next Congress and can perhaps get closer to policy improvements.