Groups scour 2022 Utah budget for funds to fight hunger

Stock image | Photo by djedzura/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE —Advocates in the battle against food insecurity are urging lawmakers to find room in the upcoming Utah state budget to increase aid to food banks and other nutrition programs.

Utah State Capitol, Salt Lake City, Utah, June 20, 2020 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

When the Utah Legislature’s 2022 session opens, state agencies and social-service groups are hoping to make an ad hoc task force formed during the pandemic permanent, and that its recommendations will result in new policies in the battle against poverty and hunger.

Alex Cragun, food security advocate for the group Utahns Against Hunger, said the committee brings like-minded entities together to fight food insecurity.

“It is a working group of people that lead out on various federal nutrition programs like SNAP, WIC and others, where they come together and talk about how they can better work together to address issues,” Cragun explained.

Cragun noted Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, is planning a bill to turn the informal Task Force on Food Security into a permanent entity. He said the coalition aims to find another $1.3 million for food banks and to bolster state and federal nutrition programs.

FILE – In this June 25, 2020 file photo, Utah Republican Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during the daily briefing on the state’s efforts to fight COVID-19, at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. After beating former Russian ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr. in the primary, Cox is expected to breeze to victory against his Democratic opponent to become the state’s new governor and take over for his boss, Gov. Gary Herbert, who held the seat for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Cragun pointed out Gov. Spencer Cox has left the door open in his budget proposal to find additional funds to make infrastructure improvements to dozens of Utah food banks, as well as help to feed more families.

“While the Legislature is still looking at an income tax cut, which Utahns Against Hunger opposes, the governor’s budget provides certain alternative paths to better utilizing some of that funding, rather than simply cutting it,” Cragun emphasized.

Cragun added the governor’s budget also calls on lawmakers to either mitigate or eliminate the state’s “food tax,” which, depending on local options, added between 2% and 5% to Utahns’ grocery bills. He thinks those resources should be aimed at families who fall outside the current benefit programs.

“Investment in working Utahns and those that needed help, and especially those that haven’t benefited from federal programs,” Cragun outlined. “I would mention members of the undocumented community, who don’t have access to federal programs, depending on their household circumstance.”

The 2022 session of the Utah Legislature opens Jan. 18 and is scheduled to run 45 days.

Written by MARK RICHARDSON, producer for Utah News Connection.

Copyright Utah News Connection, all rights reserved.

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