TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — As National School Breakfast Week comes to a close, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried hosted a virtual press conference to discuss school nutrition, chronic hunger, and important food insecurity legislation in the Florida House and Senate. Commissioner Fried was joined by State Senator Darryl Rouson (SD-19), Chair of the Florida Senate Agriculture Committee; State Representative Allison Tant (HD-9), a member of the Florida House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee; and Lakeisha Hood, Director of the Division of Food, Nutrition and Wellness at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS).
She was virtually joined students at McMullen Booth Elementary School in Clearwater, cheerleaders from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Bucs mascot Captain Fear, and the Florida Dairy Farmers to mark National School Breakfast Week with a blender bike challenge, a competition making healthy smoothies through physical activity.
Senate Bill 1768 by Senator Rouson and House Bill 1191 by Representative Tant will significantly improve access to nutrition in Florida. The legislation will establish universal free school breakfast and lunch across Florida; provide tax credits to farmers who donate farm-fresh food; study food insecurity issues in low-income communities; and appropriate $7 million for state purchases of locally-grown food from Florida farmers, $1.25 million for local food bank grants and $1.5 million for pilot programs for healthy food access and medical prescriptions for nutrition.
“For so many Florida kids, school meals are the only meals they can count on. COVID-19 has only made hunger so much worse, and it’s shed light on the need to continue improving how we help feed Florida’s families,” said Fried. “I’m proud to partner this legislative session with Senator Rouson and Representative Tant, and I thank them for stepping up for our kids and hungry families all across our state.”
“We know that the pandemic, as the Commissioner said, has and will continue to exacerbate problems with food insecurity, especially for children,” said Senator Darryl Rouson. “SB 1768 will take a step in the right direction through expanded and new pilot programs, such as the Healthy Food Access Program to support transportation projects that connect low-income and low-access residents to healthy food outlets.”
“Leon County has among the highest level of family food insecurity in the state, where one in three children are food insecure. My mother was one of eight children, and they grew up in poverty at the height of the Great Depression, picking produce to earn a few pennies and put food on the family table,” said Representative Allison Tant. “Food insecurity is not theoretical – it’s very real in my community, which is why HB 1191 is so important. In addition to helping our school children have healthy food, it helps make sure that we promote Florida produce among state entities and support our local Florida farmers.”
Background: Nearly three million Floridians face chronic hunger, including 850,000 children, and nearly one in four Floridians are unsure about affording their next meal. FDACS oversees numerous food and nutrition assistance programs, including The Emergency Food Assistance Program for seniors and low-income families, and the state’s $1.3 billion school meals program, which served 319 million meals to 2.8 million Florida children last school year. FDACS also oversees the Summer BreakSpot program which feeds children while schools are out; with schools closed early due to COVID-19, FDACS and its non-profit and community partners served 74 million meals from March-August 2020.