My name is Paul Birkbeck, and I have worked with SNAP for 26 years and have been honored to chair Utah's State Nutrition Action Coalition (SNAC) for the past eight years. Throughout the United States, SNACs are an innovative, collaborative strategy to improve community health through partnerships. I am in awe of the passion and dedication of our nutrition partners in Utah.
In 2020, Utah State Senator Luz Escamilla introduced a bill to create a Food Security Task Force to develop a plan for establishing food security within the state. The Task Force was formed in 2021. In July 2022, our SNAC was rebranded “The Food Security Council” and its membership expanded to include the Department of Agriculture, the Farm Bureau, and representatives from refugee resettlement services, Tribal governments, and higher education. Utah’s SNAC already included representatives from SNAP-Ed, the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), WIC, the Department of Health, Get Healthy Utah, Utahns Against Hunger and the SNAP State Agency.
The purpose of one of the Food Security Task Force’s three workgroups, Policy and Access to Healthy Food, is to identify policy barriers that prevent low-income individuals and families from participating in federal nutrition programs, and to identify opportunities to increase access to fresh and whole foods as part of healthy eating patterns. Recent data from USDA’s Economic Research Service show that one in 10 Utah households experience food insecurity. While overall, Utah is close to the national average for poverty, the problem is concentrated in rural areas. Additionally, food insecurity disproportionately affects children, female single-parent households, seniors, Blacks, Indigenous, and other communities of color.
The other members of the Food Security Task Force and I are excited to tackle this challenge and to work together to eliminate food insecurity across the Beehive State! Establishing our Task Force was just the first of many steps this broad group of partners will take to implement lasting policy solutions that will increase access to food for all Utahns.