Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Food Security Council is making several recommendations to ensure Michigan families have access to nutritious food during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The recommendations are a continuation of the swift action the state has already taken to address food insecurity related to COVID-19. The goal is to help residents already struggling to feed their families as well as those facing food insecurity for the first time due to job losses or other challenges related to the pandemic.
“I formed the Food Security Council to make sure that all Michiganders – no matter their socioeconomic status – can put food on the table for themselves and their families,” Gov. Whitmer said. “The needs are especially recognizable and critical during a pandemic but must continue to be addressed when the current crisis is over. I applaud members of the council for their hard work, creativity and partnership during a very challenging time for our state and country.”
The council, which is within the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is making recommendations in the three areas of:
- Addressing food needs faced by Michigan residents. Included are recommendations to require the state to swiftly pursue existing federal food program services and seek flexibility; develop approaches for food distribution such as home delivery; and provide incentives for additional retailers to accept online payment from people who receive food assistance benefits.
- Collaborating with partners and improving the infrastructure for food and nutrition programs. Included are recommendations to continue partnerships with food banks, State Emergency Operations Center personnel, the Michigan National Guard and other organizations responsible for food and nutrition programs and services; develop a process for communities to create local emergency response plans with their county emergency managers; and develop data-sharing and technology procedures to identify food needs for clients and track the total food distribution across agencies.
- Ensuring an adequate food supply in Michigan. While ample food has existed in the supply chain during the pandemic, recommendations include developing a communications strategy to address “panic buying;” prioritizing food workers along the supply chain for personal protective equipment and workplace safety materials; and creating a statewide program that engages restaurants and their workers to distribute prepared meals to vulnerable populations.
“At MDHHS our staff has worked tirelessly during this once-in-a-century crisis to meet the food needs of Michigan residents,” said MDHHS Director Robert Gordon. “There is much work that remains. The Food Security Council recommendations provide a blueprint for building upon the successes that we have achieved. No one should have to worry about having enough food during a pandemic.”
Gov. Whitmer created the council in August and appointed Dr. Phil Knight of the Food Bank Council of Michigan to be its chair. She required an initial report with short-term findings and recommendations to be completed this month and a final report to be submitted within 18 months. The council consists of the directors of the state departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture and Rural Development, and Labor and Economic Opportunity, and the superintendent of public instruction, or their designees, as well as 16 other appointees.
“Over one hundred ago the Food Security Council (FSC) accepted Governor Whitmer’s challenge and opportunity to discern the impact of COVID 19 on food security across Michigan. The reality of need evidenced by the mile-long lines of cars, the relief on the faces of people who had never visited a food distribution before, and the look on a senior citizen’s face when a box was dropped off at their home,” said Dr. Phil Knight. “The words, the tears and the liberation people demonstrated when they drove away with enough food for their families affirms our shared belief that people aren’t just needy but worthy of investment. The response from all levels during the pandemic to address food insecurity offers a clear glimpse into what we need in order to create a food secure Michigan outside of the pandemic.”
The council is part of the governor’s ongoing efforts to improve food security in Michigan. Previously, she gained approval of increased monthly food assistance benefits for approximately 350,000 families. In April, Michigan became the first state to gain federal approval for the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer Program. The program, which reached nearly 968,000 students, provided nutritious food to children who were affected by school closings due to COVID-19.
In late May, MDHHS started an initiative that allows SNAP clients to buy their food online from participating retailers using their Electronic Benefits Transaction cards – known in Michigan as Bridge Cards.
MDHHS is working to implement parts of the Coronavirus Relief Act signed in December – including a 15 percent increase in food assistance payments. The department is also rolling out the Restaurant Meal Program. Restaurants can enroll now, and MDHHS will announce at a later date when eligible food assistant recipients can start redeeming their benefits at participating restaurants.
More than 1.2 million people in Michigan receive federal SNAP benefits through the state’s Food Assistance Program.