As we usher in 2021, it is important to reflect on the policy successes we had in the last 12 months.
Voices for Healthy Kids welcomed 2020 with great anticipation but faced unforeseen obstacles when COVID-19 arrived.
In response to the pandemic, we launched a brand-new opportunity for organizations – the COVID-19 Rapid Response Grants. As a result of this grant opportunity, we:
- brought 600 new organizations into the Voices for Healthy Kids portfolio
- reviewed nearly 200 grant applications
- awarded $1 million to 22 nonprofits (consisting of 19 states, Puerto Rico and the Lummi Nation in Washington State) focused on assisting communities most affected by COVID-19.
By the end of 2020, Voices for Healthy Kids had provided funding and campaign coaching that yielded 235 policy successes, affecting 243,898,811 people around the country since the launch of the initiative.
So, what will 2021 hold? We aren’t entirely sure, but we are eager to get to work. But, before we do, let’s first take a moment to celebrate and learn from some of our advocates who overcame the unprecedented challenges of 2020 to pave the way for our future success in making each day healthier for all children.
Arizona’s SNAP Incentive Program Engages Local Grocery Store and Addresses COVID-19
Pinnacle Prevention and the American Heart Association — Greater Phoenix Division secured an additional $500,000 allocation for the Double Up Food Bucks Arizona program, which allows Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants to purchase Arizona-grown fruits and vegetables from the governor’s office through Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding. This was a huge win not just for children, adults and families facing food and nutrition insecurity, but also for local farmers whose distribution chain was disrupted by the pandemic. Pinnacle Prevention knows there is more work to be done to meet the needs of all Arizona families. The organization is now strategizing with stakeholders for a permanent recurring SNAP incentive appropriation in 2021.
Seattle’s COVID-19 Grocery Vouchers
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Seattle’s sugary drink tax put $5 million worth of grocery vouchers into the hands of those who needed them most. Beginning in March 2020, 6,250 food-insecure Seattle households each received $800 worth of grocery vouchers funded by the city’s sugary drink tax revenue fund. Vouchers were delivered by mail in two $400 installments over two months. Subsequent rounds of grocery vouchers supported by additional city, federal and private funding went out to more families in May, June and July.
Seattle’s 1.75-cents-per-ounce tax, the result of a multi-partner campaign supported by Voices for Healthy Kids, took effect in 2018. During its first year, the tax raised nearly $23 million — significantly more than the projected $15 million — to help expand access to healthy food and education programs and reduce health disparities.
The city serves as an example for other cities, counties or states looking to implement sugary drink taxes of their own.
North Carolina Invests in SNAP During the Pandemic
The North Carolina General Assembly set aside $2.5 million from the CARES Act for Healthy Helping, which is run by North Carolina nonprofit Reinvestment Partners.
This investment from the state provided $40 per month for three months to approximately 20,000 North Carolina SNAP beneficiaries impacted by COVID-19. This is an unprecedented victory for healthy food access advocacy in the state.
Michigan Invests $2 Million into Its “10 Cents a Meal for Michigan’s Kids & Farms” Program
The Michigan Legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer took budget action to expand the 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan’s Kids & Farms program—making it available statewide for the first time. The program provides up to 10 cents per meal in matching grants to school districts to increase the Michigan-grown fruits, vegetables and legumes that end up on children’s school lunch trays. The program doubles the state’s investment because schools match the grant with existing school food dollars, usually federal.
Despite a tight year for state finances due to the COVID-19 crisis, 10 Cents a Meal is now available to schools across the state, including for the first time in the rural Upper Peninsula and urban Detroit. The program’s budget was increased October 1 from $575,000 to $2 million. The program has proven to be a win-win-win approach, because it not only helps schools and children, it also invests in Michigan’s diverse and important family farm economy.
Among those actively promoting 10 Cents a Meal are the Detroit Food Policy Council and the Crim Fitness Foundation in Flint, who are subgrantees with Groundwork Center on a Voices for Healthy Kids grant; and the Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which is implementing a different Voices for Healthy Kids grant.
School Water Hydration Policy Passes in Little Rock, Arkansas and Brookhaven, Mississippi
All kids need enough safe, clean water to thrive. When water is not available, children tend to consume more sugary drinks, such as sports drinks, fruit-flavored drinks with added sugar, energy drinks and soda — all of which contain empty calories that contribute to obesity and are linked to chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
In May 2020, the Little Rock School District in Arkansas became the nation’s first to adopt a hydration policy that allows students to bring water bottles with them into classrooms and requires all new school construction and major renovation projects to include water bottle filling stations in their blueprints.
The North Little Rock School Board, which is separate from the one in Little Rock, passed a similar hydration policy.
Advocates from Healthy Arkansas, Coalition for Obesity Prevention, the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement and American Heart Association hope the policy will be adopted statewide during the 2021 legislative session.
In Mississippi, the Brookhaven School District’s Board of Trustees unanimously voted to approve a “Commitment to a Healthy School” in October 2020. The addendum will be added to the existing student wellness policy, which includes language that allows students and staff to carry refillable water bottles on campus. Additionally, all new or majorly renovated schools will have water bottle refilling stations installed.
Philadelphia Uses Sweetened Beverage Revenue to Invest $2 Million in Pre-K Programs
At a time when many child care centers faced closures due to the economic fallout following the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Philadelphia directed $2 million into its early care and education programs. Money from Philadelphia’s four-year-old sweetened beverage tax made this multi-million-dollar investment possible. The $2 million supported PHLpreK, which funds free, quality pre-K in Philadelphia. Centers that received funds used the dollars to bolster staff salaries and to buy classroom supplies like chairs, desks and napping mats as well as books, puzzles, arts and crafts and other educational materials.
Additionally, by increasing access to early child care, Philadelphia parents can seek out employment and education opportunities while their children were being cared for.
First-of-Its-Kind Kids’ Meal Bill Passes in Prince George’s Co., Maryland
Kids in Prince George’s County, Maryland will get healthier meals and drinks when they order from kids’ meals menus in the county thanks to the passage of the Prince George’s County Healthy Kids’ Meals Bill (CB-071).
The legislation is the first of its kind in the country to include healthier comprehensive options for both food and drinks. It makes water, milk and 100% fruit or vegetable juice default beverage options for all kids’ meals served at Prince George’s County restaurants. It also ensures that food options in kids’ meals limit calories, sugar, salt and fat. Families are still be able to order other beverage items upon request.
The bill, supported by a diverse coalition led by Sugar Free Kids Maryland, the Prince George’s Food Equity Council, the American Heart Association and Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), will improve health for county children by making the healthy option the easy choice.
Cleveland Passes Healthy Kids’ Meals Drinks Policy
Cleveland kids are sweet enough! That is the message the Cleveland City Council sent by approving a measure to make healthy drinks –- water, low-fat milk and 100% fruit juice –- the automatic options when ordering from restaurant menus with kids’ meals.
In neighborhoods with limited access to grocery stores and nutritious meals, restaurant meals are a prime source of daily calories. The healthy default drinks policy addresses the health inequities that exist in the community and offers protections for Cleveland children.
Medicaid Expansion in Oklahoma and Missouri
Oklahoma achieved a win to expand Medicaid, passing by just 6,488 votes. The move protects Medicaid expansion in the state and prevents state lawmakers from limiting or reversing expansion. The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy teamed up with Voices for Healthy Kids to advocate for more of its residents who lacked health insurance.
Missouri voted to expand Medicaid to an additional 230,000 adults, which passed with 53% of the votes. The narrow approval came as the state battled a surge in COVID-19 cases. Voices for Healthy Kids grantee Beyond Housing spent months rallying for the win, which would expand Medicaid coverage to workers earning less than $18,000 per year, including 36,000 Black or African-American Missourians who didn’t previously have coverage.
Recognizing and Celebrating American Indian Peoples
Indigenous Peoples’ Day, celebrated the second Monday of October in lieu of Columbus Day, is an opportunity to acknowledge and confront the legacy of colonialism, which devastated American Indian communities and continues to negatively impact them today — including through high rates of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and other chronic health conditions. Recognizing this day is a stepping stone on the path to better health for all American Indian communities.
In 2019, Voices for Healthy Kids supported IllumiNative, an initiative created and led by American Indians, to develop the toolkit For Our Future: An Advocate’s Guide to Supporting Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Drawing on lessons and research from American Indian advocates on the frontlines of fighting for change, the toolkit provides resources on Indigenous People’s Day, including a brief historical overview of the day, case studies on recent adoptions by several cities and other resources for participating in this day of celebration.