Remarks by President Biden at the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health
Ronald Reagan Building
10:27 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Jimmieka, she — please, sit down. Sit down. (Laughter.) She’s awful good, isn’t she? She was really good. Jimmieka, thank you for joining us and — for this historic Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health.
Before I begin, though, I — speaking of health, you all have been reading and hearing about the hurricane and — Hurricane Ian and its impact it’s going to have on our fellow Americans down in Florida.
Yesterday, I spoke with Governor DeSantis for some time — my team has been in constant contact with him from the very beginning — and the mayors of Tampa, St. Pete’s, and Clearwater.
And my message has been absolutely clear — is that we are on alert and in action. We’ve approved every request Florida has made for temporary assistance, emergency assistance, long-term assistance that I’ve received.
We discussed what we have done to prepare for the hurricane. That includes dispatching hundreds of FEMA personnel and activating thousands of National Guard members. I have also developed the search and rescue teams — and deployed them from multiple federal agencies. And they’re already on the ground and ready to help as we speak.
FEMA pre-positioned millions of — literally millions of liters of water, millions of meals, and hundreds of generators. We have scheduled everything we can possibly do. And we think, and so do the mayors and the governor, that — and we’ve had — put up shelters — they’re ready.
We’re not sure exactly where it’s going to hit, but we’ve — pretty — it’s getting pretty clear exactly where it’s going to hit.
I made it clear to the governor and the mayors that the federal government is ready to help in every single way possible.
And I want to repeat what I said yesterday to the people of Florida: This storm is incredibly dangerous, to state the obvious. It’s life threatening. You should obey all warnings and directions from emergency officials. Don’t take anything for granted. Use their judgment, not yours. Evacuate when ordered. Be prepared. The storm warnings are real. The evacuation notices are real. The danger is real.
And when the storm passes, the federal government is going to be there to help you recover. We’ll be there to help you clean up and rebuild, to help you get — Florida get moving again. And we’ll be there at every step of the way. That’s my absolute commitment to the people of the state of Florida. (Applause.)
And if you’ll forgive me, I want to add one more warning. That’s a warning to the oil and gas industry executives: Do not — let me repeat — do not — do not use this as an excuse to raise gasoline prices or gouge the American people. (Applause.)
The price of oil has stayed relatively low. It kept going down. The price of gas should be going down as well.
My experts inform me that production of only about 190,000 barrels a day has been impacted by this storm thus far. That’s less than 2 percent of the United States’ daily production impacted for a very short period of time.
This small, temporary storm impact on oil production provides no excuse — no excuse for price increases at the pump. None.
If gas companies try to use this storm to raise prices at the pump, I will ask officials to look into whether price gouging is going on. America is watching. The industry should do the right thing. As a matter of fact, they should move more quickly now to bring down the price at the pump because gasoline is down — the price of gasoline is down a great deal. There’s too much of a delay between the price of barrel of ga- — of gas being pro- — oil and the price of gasoline at the pump.
Now to why we’re all here for this — on this historic day: The Secretary of Agriculture said everything, so I’m leaving. (Laughter.) You really did. So I apologize to you for any repetition that may occur here.
But all kidding aside, you know, it’s been over 50 years, to state the obvious — you all know it well — since President Nixon convened the original White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health.
And the single — that single conference and the laws that inspired it — it inspired led a transformational change that has helped millions of Americans live healthier lives for generations.
Since that time, advances in research and medicine have taught us so much more about nutrition and health.
And today, I’m convening this conference again because I believe we can use these advances to do even more to make America stronger and a healthier nation. And so many of you know so much about this as well, and you’re committed.
And I want to thank all of you here, including bipartisan elected officials like Representative McGovern, Senator Braun, Senator Booker, Representative — Jackie, are you here? Where’s Jackie? I didn’t think she was — she wasn’t going to be here — to help make this a reality. And thanks to Senator Stabenow, Representative DeLauro for their leadership.
And here today we have advocates and activists — José Andrés — you’ve heard of him, haven’t you? (Applause.) La- — last time we hung out on the Ukrainian border in Poland. And leaders of business, labor, agriculture, faith, and philanthropy and — to achieve ambitious goals that I know we can do if we work together — I really do know we can do this: End hunger in this country by the year 2030 and lower the toll — (applause) — lower the toll that diet-related diseases takes on for too many Americans.
This goal is within our reach. Just look at how far we’ve come on child poverty.
Thirty years ago, as was referenced, 1 in 4 children lived below the poverty line. Today, 1 in 20 live below the poverty line. So I know we can take — tackle hunger as well. And I’ve released a national strategy to meet that bold goal. The strategy that — has three key — three key principles.
First, help more Americans — I’ll say this again — help more Americans access the food that will keep their families nourished and healthy. A lot of food deserts out there.
Second, give folks the option and information they need to make healthy dietary choices.
Thirdly, help more Americans be physically active. People want to be; lots of times of times there’s no places to go to be active from where they live.
The good news is that we’ve already been laying a strong foundation for this work.
Soon after I came to office, I signed what was called the American Rescue Plan into law. It helped put food on the table and keep a roof over the heads of millions of American families. It helped our economy create nearly 10 million new jobs — most jobs created in that timeframe in American history. We kept a pri- — a key price of — of the — a piece of the American Rescue Plan is the expanded Childcare Tax Credit. (Applause.)
Where is she? The gentlewoman from Connecticut, I —
Overwhelmingly, working families used the Child Tax Credit to buy food and other basic needs for their families. And it helped cut child poverty by nearly 50 percent in the United States — 50 percent. (Applause.) And it cut food insecurity for families by 26 percent. (Applause.)
Look, folks, people are constantly looking at federal programs to see which ones are working and which ones are ineffective.
Well, during the pandemic, we had a real-world example right in front of us.
The expanded Childcare Tax Credit is one of the most effective programs we’ve ever seen. And that’s why my national strategy calls on Congress to expand the Child Credit permanently. (Applause.) Permanently.
We got to do it. (Applause.) We tried. We couldn’t get it done the first time. We’ll get it done this time. (Applause.)
At the same time, I remain committed to protecting workers’ rights and fair wages and collective bargaining, including workers who grow, produce, and process our food; who transport it to grocery stores — (applause) — who stock the grocery shelves and — so they too can afford to feed their families.
Look, folks, my strategy would also make permanent the Ameri- — an American Rescue Plan program that has made sure families, including over 30 million children, had money to buy groceries into the summer months so kids don’t go hungry when school isn’t in session.
It sounds silly for a person to hear that who doesn’t have a child, but full school programs — food programs do a lot. During the summer months, things change.
Within the next 10 years, my plan, as was already referenced, would make at least 9 million more children eligible for free school meals — a major first step for free meals for every single student. (Applause.)
And we’re also supporting schools so they can cook more meals from scratch, purchase more food from local farmers and ranchers. (Applause.) And this will mean kids will have healthier meals, and we’ll strengthen rural economies at the same time.
You heard from Senator — from Secretary Vilsack. “Senator.” Excuse me, I demoted you. (Laughter.) All kidding aside, he’s doing a hell of a job. Earlier — (applause) — I not only thank him for leading on this iss- — he knows a great deal about it and he cares passionately about this issue.
The national strategy recognizes the critical role that nutrition plays in our health and our healthcare system, and it acknowledges that we give — we have to give families the tools to keep them healthy.
How many of you here are — are medical people involved in research? You know, almost every single — almost every single discipline, from cancer to heart disease on down the line, are finding out it’s affected by diet and exercise. (Applause.) I mean, things we — you all knew, but we — it wasn’t proved before.
And so, example: Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America.
Nineteen states — in 19 states, more than 35 percent of adults are obese. In 19 states. Nineteen.
For seniors and millions of folks on Medicaid, our national strategy would expand access to nutrition and obesity counseling so they can get the guidance they need to stay healthy. It has only — not only do people need to know what they should be eating — what they should be eating.
Our national strategy also calls for doctors, nurses, dentists to be trained to spot the signs of hunger.
And the Food and Drug Administration is already using its authority around labeling so you know which food is high on trans-fats and sodium so you can figure out which food is actually good for you and what isn’t good for you. And that only is going to increase informing people.
Both in too many underserved communities — urban, rural, and Tribal — there’s nowhere to buy fresh food for miles or safe places for kids to play or adults to exercise.
I’ve signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. It creates space to live, work, and play safely. It doesn’t just build highways and build new ports and airports and the like; it also has the ability to transform systems that are already over- — overworked right now — where families can drink clean water, breathe clean air, use public transit so they can shop at nearby grocery stores that stock fresh and healthy foods.
We also know that, too often, healthier food cost more. That’s why — that’s why my strategy calls for Congress to expand incentives to purchase fruits and vegetables for low-income families — (applause) — who rely on — who rely on SNAP benefits to buy groceries so it’ll be easier to afford the food that’s good for you.
You know, until recently, the way SNAP benefits were calculated hadn’t been — I think this was referenced already — hadn’t been updated for nearly 45 years — actually, over 45 years.
So, last year, my administration changed the formula, and now folks are getting an average of 36 extra dollars in their pockets per month.
Physical activity is part of living a healthy lifestyle and avoiding diet-related diseases.
We’re going to work with Congress to increase access to county — the country’s parks — county, city, national — especially for Americans in low-income communities who need public transit to get there.
It will also give more families the chance to hike, to bike, to breathe fresh air.
Through the Inflation Reduction Act, we’re making historic investments in climate and public health so families can get outside and be physically active in the air that’s clean, not polluted with dirty diesel from buses and trucks and school buses as well.
The Department of Education and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the CDC — are going to help schools expand physical education classes into the summer schools and summer programs so kids get off to a healthy start in life. If they’re in summer school, they’re also going to be — have physical capacity. They have gym — the equivalent of gym. And after-school programs so we get kids off to a healthy start. Not just — so we should take advantage of the opportunities when we have these children.
There’s so much more in our strategy and so much more in our imagination. But one thing is clear: Meeting our bold goals requires a whole-of-government approach — a whole-of-government approach — and a whole-of-society effort. That’s why I’m so excited to see all of you here. You represent society in a way that is — touches every aspect of society, every — every part of the country. And when I look out at all of you and the work you’re doing in your communities, I know — I just know we — we can do this.
People are becoming more aware. I mean, people who are — who are getting hurt by the failure to know — to have the access, they’re beginning to be aware. And they’re beginning to think in ways they didn’t think before, that — as — what their dietary habits should be and how they — how they should fe- — be feeding their children if they can feed them.
Well before, we — especially during the pandemic, so many of you were there to help your fellow Americans. They lost their jobs; closed their businesses; faced eviction, homelessness, hunger; lost control; and maybe the worst of all, lost hope and dignity.
But whether it’s been your life’s work or you’re just getting started, all of you are stepping up. You collected food donations. You served and saved baskets and lunches and breakfast foods and — I mean, just across the board, you did everything in school — school programs and summer school programs. You found new ways to get food from farms to restaurants to dinner tables. You gave other families hope.
In my church, we have an expression when someone’s doing something. They say, “You’re doing the Lord’s work.” A lot of people been doing the Lord’s work. That’s why each of you — what each of you are doing. And we’re on our way in a way that I don’t think that we have for a while.
And again, you know, science changes things. And people are realizing not only whether or not they’re overweight or obese or not “healthy” — quote, unquote — but certain diseases are affected by what they eat, what they intake. And people are beginning — the more we can — the more we can spread that word and educate people of what’s at stake, the more we’re going to see change. But we have to be ready — as a government, as a people — to provide the elements of change that are going to change things for them.
So thanks to the American Rescue Plan and the fact that the economy is turning around, a high level of food insecurity we saw at the height of the pandemic is down.
But despite the progress, 1 in 10 American households still do not have access to enough food. One in ten.
We’re working to deliver an economy that finally works for working families. Jobs are up. People are back to work. We’re taking on inflation seriously, enacting policies to bring down cost. But there’s always significantly more we can do.
That’s why we’re here today: to harness our greatest resource — our fellow Americans.
Everyone — everyone has an important role to play — local, state, territory, and Tribal governments and the federal government as well; the private sector; civil society; agriculture; philanthropy; academia.
You know, for example, the Rockefeller Foundation and the American Heart Association are expanding research into the relationship between food health and health equity.
And the Food, Nutrition, and Investor Coalition is investing $2.5 billion into proven technologies and startup companies, pioneering new ways for reducing hunger and improving nutrition.
Today, we’re announcing over $8 billion in commitments from over 100 different organizations to help reach our goals. (Applause.) Eight billion.
And I also firmly believe the work ahead should be bipartisan. There shouldn’t be anything partisan about any of this. (Applause.)
Just as it was when President Nixon first convened this conference or when Senator George McGovern and Bob Dole transformed America’s role in reducing hunger in America and around the world.
And this — and this work on hunger and nutrition and physical health is critical to addressing our mental health and wellness as well, which is a key pillar to my unity agenda that I called for in my State of the Union Address. Again, bipartisan.
This is something that should — we should be all rallying the country to work on together.
And thinking internationally, global inflation and Putin’s war in Ukraine have sparked a global food crisis.
So just last week at the United Nations, I talked about the commitments we’re making to tackle food insecurity worldwide. Because in every country in the world and in every state in this country, no matter what else divides us, if a parent cannot feed a child, there’s nothing else that matters for that parent. If you look at your child and you can’t feed your child, what the hell else matters? (Applause.) I really mean it. Worldwide.
So, folks, let me close with this. I believe America — and you’re tired of hearing me say it, I’m sure — is at an inflection point. It happens every six or eight generations, where thi- — so much changes in the world that everything that comes after it is different than it was before.
You’ve also heard me talk about the need to — for us to restore the soul of America. All I’m talking about is just restore, say, the decency — treating people with respect, treating people in a way that you’d expect — you’d want to be treated. And by the way, some of you have been around long enough to remember we used to be that way in politics. We fought like hell — (applause) — no, I’m serious. We fought like hell, but ultimately the vast majority were decent.
One of my best friends was a guy who was like a brother I always fought with. We’d shout at each other on the floor of the Senate, and then go have lunch together. His name was John McCain. (Applause.)
The point is, every senator can mention — can acknowledge that. This should be an organizing element of how we start to talk to one another again, dealing with food insecurity.
The task before us at this conference is the important work that follows and meeting this inflection point by nourishing the soul of America.
America — in America, no child — no child should go to bed hungry. No parent — (applause) — no parent should die of a disease that can be prevented. (Applause.)
This has always been a country, at our best — when we’re at our best, we think big. It’s almost like we don’t think anymore that we can do big things. No, I mean it sincerely. Think about it.
I realize this is not directly related, but one of the things that I say to my team, my friends: If I could wave a wand and change one thing that would change America’s attitude about all we’re able to do, remember who we were — I’d wave a wand and say, “Cure cancer.” Why cancer? Everybody is scared to death of cancer, and most people don’t think we can do much about it. We can.
But imagine if we did that. People would say, “My God. We’re back.” Well, this could be a gigantic step — a gigantic step and remind us who the hell we are.
This is the United States of America. (Applause.) There is nothing — nothing, nothing — (applause) — I really mean it — there’s nothing beyond our capacity when we work together, so let’s work together.
God bless you all. And may God protect our troops. Thank you, thank you, thank you. (Applause.)
10:50 A.M. EDT