Democratic presidential contender Julián Castro offered a plan Wednesday to combat hunger in the United States, especially for impoverished children.
The former head of the Housing and Urban Development Department published a Medium post calling for expanding federal programs to help provide free breakfast and lunch for all students in public schools, stressing that society has a “moral obligation” to ensure children don’t go hungry.
“The right to eat is a human right,” Castro said of his People First Plan to End Hunger in America. “We cannot move forward as one nation if only a few are prosperous and fed while many are poor and hungry. … If we invest in stronger federal nourishment programs, I believe that this generation can defeat malnutrition and achieve freedom from hunger.”
Castro’s plan includes expanding Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (commonly referred to as food stamps) to college students, ensuring free meals for public school students and eliminating school lunch debts. The school lunch program would cost about $19.6 billion a year, which would come from raising taxes on people who make more than $40 million a year as well as tax increases for businesses, Castro told The New York Times.
The one-time mayor of San Antonio, Texas, also wants SNAP recipients to be able to grocery shop online and access food delivery services to enable people who have disabilities, live in areas lacking convenient grocery stores or don’t have access to transportation to still feed their families nutritious meals.
He also proposes directing federal resources toward creating small business loans for more local food production in underserved areas.
Last year, 1 in 7 households with children experienced hunger due to food insecurity, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Rural counties make up 78% of counties in the U.S. with the highest rates of food insecurity, despite only comprising of about 63% of all counties.
Black households in the U.S. are more than twice as likely to face hunger than white households, and Latino households are 50% more likely, according to Feeding America, a non-profit that operates a nationwide network of food banks.
“Like oxygen, water, and shelter, food is a basic necessity for human survival. And research shows that access to food has a profound impact on health, wellbeing and economic outcomes,” Castro said. “In the wealthiest nation on Earth, we can all agree that every person should have three meals a day and live without fear of hunger. I believe we have the capacity to end hunger in America.”
Castro has made concentrating on people who are poor, homeless, incarcerated, undocumented or victims of systemic racism the focal point of his candidacy. While many other candidates have also proposed plans to help marginalized communities, most of their policies are more focused on helping the middle class.
Those praising the former housing secretary’s plan included celebrity and activist chef José Andrés and the Children’s Defense Fund.
“We are grateful to [Castro] for prioritizing children and families living in poverty,” the fund tweeted. “We agree: no one should have to wonder where their next meal will come from.”
Castro unveiled his plan about a week after he failed, for the first time, to make the cut for a Democratic presidential debate stage. He spent the duration of the debate, held in Atlanta and featuring 10 candidates, giving his own responses to moderators’ questions on Twitter.
Most polls show Castro far behind the race’s frontrunners, with support in national surveys of only about 1% of Democratic primary voters. He has yet to qualify for the Dec. 19 debate. in Los Angeles ― Castro’s campaign told The Times he still needs 7,500 more donors to meet the threshold for participating.