Food insecurity issues have been the cornerstone of Craig Coughlin’s tenure as Speaker of the New Jersey State Assembly, so his presence at President Joe Biden’s announcement that he was committed to end hunger by 2030 was especially rewarding.
“We can make it possible that people don’t go hungry,” Coughlin told the New Jersey Globe.
Coughlin led the New Jersey delegation to the White House Conference in Hunger, Nutrition and Health this week in Washington – the first since 1969, where Biden proposed spending more than $8 billion to improve food access and affordability and to integrate nutrition and health.
“If you look at your child and you can’t feed your child, what the hell else matters?” Biden said. “In America, no child should go to bed hungry. No parent should die of disease that can be prevented.”
Coughlin said it was helpful to be “surrounded by people who were really smart and caring.”
“Hearing things they are doing is exciting,” Coughlin stated. “Big, bold things can come out of this,” he said.
Some of the issues discussed at the conference validated legislation advanced by Coughlin over the last four years – about 30 different bills and a tripling of state spending to combat hunger to $85 million this year. He has said New Jersey has become a model for the rest of the country.
“Hearing talk about those things and recognizing that we’re already doing some of it was gratifying,” he said. “Other states need to do this.”
Coughlin helped create the first state-level Food Security Advocate in the nation and expanded the reach of what he called “critical safety net programs,” like SNAP and school models.
He said the issue of food insecurity ought to come without party labels and pointed to the presence of lawmakers from both parties at the conference.
“If you’re hungry, you’re hungry,” Coughlin said. It doesn’t matter what god you pray to or whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican.”
Kevin O’Toole, a former Republican senator who chairs the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, heaped praise on Coughlin’s efforts on food security issues. The two have worked together to raise money for food pantries.
“The Speaker has done an extraordinary job reducing the number of New Jersey families that go hungry,” said O’Toole. “His leadership and his doggedness in solving a genuinely serious problem is to be commended.”