Anti-hunger groups say the pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity in Minnesota. They want state lawmakers to adopt short-term and long-term changes as they respond to greater demands for food donations. (Adobe Stock)
January 6, 2021
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota lawmakers have kicked off the 2021 session, with pandemic-related issues commanding most of the attention. Advocates of specific proposals, some directly connected to the crisis, hope to see some movement.
The pandemic has shed new light on hunger in Minnesota and across the country. Hunger Solutions Minnesota estimates local food shelves saw 3.75 million visitors last year, the highest ever. Leah Gardner, the group’s policy director, said there’s also strong demand for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and they’d like the state to adjust eligibility requirements.
“We want to increase the income threshold, which I think is a perfect thing for us to do at the state level,” she said, “because we can get more families eligible by making a state-level change.”
Because it’s federally funded, Gardner said, it wouldn’t add costs for Minnesota. For the long term, Hunger Solutions wants all students to have access to free school meals, not just those who qualify. She said that could keep families from struggling with lunch debt if they suddenly fall into poverty. However, legislative leaders have questioned whether that can be addressed amid other budget demands.
Supporters of an Equal Rights Amendment say they’re pushing again for adoption of a state bill. The federal amendment, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, reached a milestone in 2019 when Virginia became the last state needed to ratify the proposal. Minnesota joined the federal movement early on, but it’s been a struggle to get a state change approved.
Heather Allison, president of ERA Minnesota, said they’re not giving up.
“We are back to square one,” she said. “We have to get new bill numbers, new bill authors.”
Most opposition has been in the Senate, where some Republicans have questioned past bills including the word “gender,” saying it could open the door to debates about transgender individuals using facilities designated for the opposite sex. Allison said they’ve worked with lawmakers on the language. She also noted that some newly elected Senate Republicans have signaled their support.