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Ensuring Equal Access to Food Assistance is Our Responsibility

Posted by Stacy Dean, Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services in Equity Food and Nutrition Nutrition Security
Sep 02, 2022

Discrimination in any form is unacceptable, and we cannot allow it to prevent a hungry person from getting the food they need.  At USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), we work to ensure that all those who are eligible for USDA’s nutrition assistance programs have equal access and opportunity to participate in the help that we offer through partner organizations around the country.  This is critically important work, as we know food insecurity is not equally experienced across different communities or groups in our country.  For example, about 1 in 13 white adults currently report experiencing food insufficiency, but that number jumps to 1 in 5 for Latinx and Black adults

Hunger and food insecurity also disproportionately affect LGBTQ+ communities. Food insufficiency is three times as common among transgender individuals. We are committed to tackling overall food insecurity as well as addressing disparities across groups.

FNS recently reaffirmed that our programs are open to all eligible people by making clear that the non-discrimination statement, which applies across all our programs, includes gender identity and sexual orientation. We also issued guidance that makes clear if an LGBTQ+ individual experiences discrimination by or within a federal nutrition assistance program, they have an avenue to file a complaint. USDA will review all such complaints and take action when warranted, working with the program operator to address the issue and prevent any further instances of discrimination.  

This is the same process that is used if, for example, an individual experiences discrimination that hinders their ability to get food from a food bank or receive benefits through WIC because of the color of their skin or a disability. Extending that protection to the LGBTQ+ community is a critical part of ensuring everyone in need has access to assistance.

Some have incorrectly suggested that there is a link between this update and state laws unrelated to FNS programs, such as those dealing with gender identity and sports participation. That is not accurate – this update is specific to the federal nutrition assistance programs.

Others have suggested that this could result in loss of program funding. However, this action is about ensuring everyone has access to our programs, not reducing funding. When processing complaints, our goal is always to reach voluntary compliance. We strive to resolve issues by working directly with program operators and aim to ensure all program participants can continue to be fed.  

We stand behind this crucial update as part of our responsibility to the American people. It is our duty to ensure that federal nutrition programs treat all people with dignity and respect. We will continue to work to ensure that our programs are open and welcoming to those in need, especially our nation’s children, as we carry out our mission to promote food and nutrition security for all.