Legislative Initiative

On April 1, 2008, House Bill 2833 entitled Food Security Act passed the Senate Committee on Finance and would only require majority approval in the Senate floor to become a full fledged law (Office of Sen. Rice, 2008). This initiative is the output of the Oklahoma Task Force on Hunger established May last year and aimed at the concretization of its recommendations based on the study regarding the issue.
Bartfeld, Dunifon, Nord and Carlson (2006) defined food security as “the access by all people at all times to enough food for an active and healthy life” (p.4). Reports reveal that Oklahoma ranks fifth among U.S. states currently experiencing high levels of food insecurity and seventh among states with high poverty levels (Oklahoma Task Force on Hunger, p.5, 8). This means that many individuals in the state do not meet the daily required nutritional needs in order to realize their full physical and mental potentials because they can not afford to buy food.
From 2003-2006, studies showed that Oklahoma’s wage and salary employment rates have steadily increased and resulted in remarkable economic growth. The state’s workforce is concentrated in the retail, health services, accommodations and food services and manufacturing industries as well as in local government and administrative and waste services (Snead and Barta, 2007). However, there are 10 counties which experienced job losses within the period.

Improvements in the economy are not equally distributed in the state. Barta and Snead (2007) underscore the observation that “larger economies have a built in competitive advantage through economies of scale and greater amenities for residents relative to smaller regions and should be expected to outperform smaller regions” (p. 3). Thus, out of the state’s 77 counties, people in the metropolitan areas have higher standards of living than those in the 35 smaller, rural counties mostly located in the northwest region.
Hence, a significant number of Oklahoman families in these areas are middle to low income earners and may account for the 14.6% of the population who are hungry or the 17% who are living below the poverty line. They lack the capacity to sufficiently obtain all their needs such as housing, healthcare, education and utilities. Family budgets for food are compromised in order to cover all basic needs. More expensive nutritious foods are replaced by cheaper but unhealthy foods and deprivation results in poor eating habits (Oklahoma Task Force on Hunger, p. 5).
The Task Force on Hunger estimated the following: “a single parent with one school age child living in Tulsa Country needs to earn $13.53 an hour to be economically stable while a single person needs $7.52” (p. 9). However, the state’s minimum wage is pegged at $5.85 an hour while the costs of basic necessities are quickly and steadily rising. Although jobs are being created, most are temporary as in the manufacturing sector, adding job insecurity to low pay.
Food insecurity impacts greatly on children.     They make up more than a third of the poor population in the state where 1 out of every 5 children potentially experience hunger on a daily basis (Office of Sen. Rice, 2008). Insufficient nutrition affects their physical and mental growth, evidenced in poor school performance, susceptibility to disease and the high obesity rates. According to the Sodexho Foundation findings, these consequences of hunger cause the state to lose $1.4 billion annually (Oklahoma Task Force on Hunger, p. 5).
The passing of HB 2833 in the Senate will create the Oklahoma Food Security Committee as the body responsible for its implementation. In the immediate, it seeks to increase the utilization of state welfare food programs and the reach of non-government charitable organizations providing food relief for families and children (Oklahoma Task Force on Hunger, 2007). In the long term, it will address insufficient family income and raise food security levels.
The Food Stamp Program currently allows persons to use electronic benefit cards to buy food items with an equivalent of $90 under the Thrifty Food Plan. The Women, Infants and Children Program, on the other hand, provides services such as nutrition education, health care referrals and supplemental food for needy families. The Senior Food Program targets the health, nutrition and social needs of the elderly. School nutrition programs provides for children through free lunches and snacks.
In addition, private organizations operate soup kitchens, shelters and food pantries among others. Meanwhile, taxes may be deducted from low income earning families through claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit. Taxes imposed on small farmers in the market may also be lessened through the Sales Tax Credit Relief. Secondary to this, the agricultural sector also needs a boost in order to locally produce adequate food stuffs for the state’s nutrition needs.
Through these measures, the Food Security Act will work to increase the amount that families may spend for food and other needs as well as harness all available resources to generate more food supplies. Increase in net income and supporting food relief will decrease the number of families and especially children, who are poor and hungry. This effort will raise the state’s food security levels towards acceptable levels within the next 5 years.
Although, the Food Security Act as a legislative initiative is laudable in its objectives, I think that ultimately, significant change in economic status is the result of secure employment and sufficient pay. If the state should raise its minimum wage, even by a fraction, then that is a concrete step.
The state should also complement the existing welfare food programs with similar initiatives in health care and education. This will further reduce the full burden of lower income earners in shouldering the food, school and health care needs of their children. The state should also put primacy in allocating funds to sustain these programs.
List of References
Bartfeld, J., Dunifon, R., Nord, M. and Carlson, S. (2006). What Factors Account for State- by-State Differences in Food Security?. Economic Information Bulletin, 20. Retrieved      4 April 2008 from http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/EIB20/eib20.pdf.
Office of Senator Andrew Rice (2008). Food Security Act Advances to Senate Floor.           Retrieved 4 April 2008 from             http://www.ok.gov/newsroom.php?page_id=681&type=1.
Oklahoma Task Force on Hunger (2007). Hunger is Not Ok. Retrieved 4 April 2008 from             http://www.hungerinoklahoma.org/Task%20Force%20Report.pdf.
Snead, M.C. and Barta, S. (2007). Economic Recovery Growth Patterns in Oklahoma 2003-            2006. The Oklahoma Economy Research Release. Retrieved 4 April 4, 2008 from   http://economy.okstate.edu/search/research.asp.

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